LEAGUE CONTRACT TALKS COMMENCEJuly 6, 2018
1199SEIU’s collective bargaining agreement with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes covers some 80,000 workers in lower New York State.
Protecting 1199’s Gold Standard Contract talks between 199SEIU and the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes kicked off on May 21, when the Union and management held their first bargaining session at a New York City hotel.
The League was founded in 1968 and currently represents 90 healthcare institutions throughout the New York City metropolitan area. 1199’s collective bargaining agreement with the employer association is the Union’s gold standard and a group of 300 fired up Union negotiating committee members came to the table ready to protect it.
“We are at the forefront of the labor movement with the quality of our contract,” said Anthony Smith, a cook at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “People have died for what we have in our contract. We must protect it. If bosses think they can break us, then they will think they can break everyone.”
At the outset of bargaining, workers greeted management representatives with cheers, hoots and the chant of “To Win This Fight We Must Unite!”
Led by 1199SEIU President George Gresham, the Union’s negotiating committee set forth a list of demands hammered out at a May 16 ratification meeting which include the following:
• A contract duration of 10/1/2018 to 9/30/21
• Annual wage increases
• Maintenance of all Funds, including the National Benefit Fund (NBF) with no premiums or co-pays.
• Increased contribution rate to Training and Upgrading Fund Maintenance of the Pension Fund
• Security for nursing home jobs, with the succession clause applicable to the sale of any nursing home where 1199 represents workers.
• Improved job security for 1199ers, with an update to Protected Status Date so that at least 75% of the employees at covered institutions are included
• Local bargaining for professional and technical workers to deal with issues specific to those classifications
• Residual and offsite organizing rights
“We will do whatever it takes.”
As in previous negotiations, management came to the table with a raft of complaints about pensions, healthcare costs and organizing. The League also pushed back against perceived benefit cost inequities between for-profit and non-profit nursing homes, but workers weren’t having it. They vowed to stand together against pension cuts and talk intended to divide workers from one another. 1199ers acknowledged bargaining challenges, but members like Elva King cited 1199ers’ work in Albany and legislative offices across the state on behalf of employers and the professional dedication of caregivers to their patients.
“We are not giving anything up. We will do whatever it takes to win this contract,” said Elva King, a CNA at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. “We work hard and deserve everything we’ve fought for over the years.”
1199SEIU President George Gresham praised the committee’s toughness, encouraging levelheaded clarity in the face of League pressure.
As jobs and delivery models change, he reminded members, healthcare providers are larger, stronger and more consolidated than ever. Still, Gresham was confident.
“I’m looking at the amount of people in this room and I’m thinking this is a lot of power,” Pres. Gresham told members ahead of ratifying contract proposals.
At press time, workers were set to enter the second round of negotiations and wrapped a series of actions intended to amplify 1199ers’ intention to unite and fight.
Workers at League institutions held a sticker day on June 6, during which workers wore stickers emblazoned with the slogan “To Win This Fight We Must Unite!” And May 29 tens of thousands of 1199ers staged a League-wide walk-in on the boss and delivered hand-signed Medigrams demanding honest negotiations and a fair contract.
In Manhattan, at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, thousands of workers streamed through the institution’s halls and into the executive suite, where police officers and a human resources director who accepted their petition greeted them.
“What they first offered us was a slap in the face and now we are going to show them that we mean business,” said Presby Special Procedure Technologist Tony Martinez. “This fight has just begun and their tactics are nothing new. They are coming hard at us, so we have to be ready for whatever the fight is.”
Negotiations were scheduled to resume on June 12.