September 2, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – Waving signs, blowing whistles, and chanting, dozens of angry protestors swarmed the sidewalks in front of the NYU-Langone Medical Center this week.
Members of 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East gathered for an informational picket line to raise public awareness about a recent move by NYU that will have a major impact on workers’healthcare and benefits.
That development had NYU withdrawing from the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, which is an association of non-profit medical centers, hospitals, and nursing homes that acts as a bargaining agent for its members. The result of that move is that when the union’s contract with NYU expires in September 2018, it is faced by uncertainty, and members fear that it is a tactic NYU is using to force them into one-on-one negotiations, and to ultimately cut payments to the 1199 Health and Benefits Fund.
Frank Miller, a retail associate at the hospital, said that during the last round of negotiations, NYU was the only place that made requests that workers pay co-pays.
“No other League members did that,” Miller said. “So, we feel that they want to force us to make co-pays. We’ll take a financial hit we can’t afford.”
Miller also said that he and other workers will lose other benefits.
“I came from a hospital that closed, where I was for twenty-three years,” Miller said. “I was able to come to NYU because where I worked before was in the League also, and due to the Job Security Fund program, workers can come from one League member to another. Now, others won’t be able to have that benefit that I did. If I had to get another job, I’d be shut out of other League members due to NYU’s withdrawal. So it’s about job security, too.”
Edgardo Rivera, a patient escort and an 1199 delegate who has worked for NYU since 1998, echoed Miller’s concerns.
“NYU says they want the best for their employees, but we don’t believe them,” Rivera said. “They want to cut our benefits – I have to take medications for two conditions, and how am I going to pay? When [Hurricane] Sandy hit, we, the union members, put NYU back on track. Now, they complain they don’t have the money [to help us].”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer both showed support for Wednesday’s picket.
“It’s important to stand with frontline workers in health care,” Stringer said. “They take care of our families and we have to watch out for them. Sometimes, we forget these union workers have to pay rent, they have to take care of their families. It’s a two-way street, not a one-way street.”
Said Brewer, “I’m here because I believe the League has done a great job, and the union has done a great job. There’s never been a strike; also they do re-training [for workers]. That is the history of 1199, and they’ve set standards for the rest of the country.”
1199SEIU represents over 220,000 healthcare workers in the greater New York City area, and over 400,000 total members throughout the East Coast.