July 20, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Members of New York’s two largest health-care unions joined the Teamsters in a rally July 18 at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, demanding that the hospital stops buying furniture from Waldner’s Business Environments until it takes back the 40-odd workers it locked out on July 1 and gives them a fair contract.
“We cannot tolerate union-busting,” Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, told the about 60 people on the sidewalk outside the Washington Heights hospital, a mix of the locked-out workers, other Teamsters, nurses on their lunch hour, and hospital staff from Local 1199SEIU. NYSNA represents more than 3,000 nurses employed by the hospital and its branches.
Waldner’s, which supplies office furniture to clients who include NewYork-Presbyterian, Macy’s, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, unilaterally terminated its contract with Teamsters Local 814 after it expired on June 30. “I’ve negotiated about a hundred contracts, and I’ve never seen anything like what happened at Waldner’s,” Local 814 President Jason Ide told the rally. “If you don’t want to bargain with a local and make a fair deal, you can’t just fire everybody.”
“Who is Waldner’s largest customer?” asked Anthony Ciampa, head of NYSNA’s bargaining unit at NewYork-Presbyterian. “NYP!” the crowd shouted back.
“Stop supporting union-busting,” Ciampa continued. “NYP, please take immediate action to support the workers who were cast aside.”
NewYork-Presbyterian management has said that the lockout is a “labor dispute” and “the hospital is not involved.”
Furillo told LaborPress that the nurses’ union was supporting the boycott out of “solidarity,” and that the Teamsters had refused to make deliveries to facilities where nurses were on strike. “They’re always there for us, and unions have to stick together,” said nurse Minerva Concepcion.
In a June 14 letter to NewYork-Presbyterian CEO Dr. Steven J. Corwin, Furillo urged him to “reconsider your business relationship with this abusive and anti-union employer.” “This sort of rapacious and socially irresponsible corporate behavior is the root cause of the stagnation of worker incomes, the continuing decline of local economies, and ever-widening income inequality,” she added. “It is not coincidental that the bitter and potentially explosive social and political divisions that have resulted are now coming home to roost in the looming healthcare disaster that is being pushed forward in Washington.”
Local 1199 has also publicly urged NewYork-Presbyterian to boycott Waldner’s, said Ciampa. Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda, state Senator Marisol Alcantara, and New York City Central Labor Council secretary-treasurer Janella Hinds also spoke.
With Waldner’s management refusing to negotiate, Local 814’s two main strategic options are the unfair-labor-practices complaint it filed with the National Labor Relations Board and getting Waldner’s customers to buy elsewhere until it rehires the locked-out workers. While it’s almost always illegal for a company simply to refuse to renew a union contract, the NLRB complaint will not be resolved for months—and by then, the board will likely be controlled by Donald Trump appointees with anti-union records.
To promote the boycott, Local 814 has launched a Web site called DropWaldners.com and is sending the link to all the company’s customers, says political coordinator Julian Tysh. “Has your company or institution worked hard over the years to maintain a socially responsible reputation?” it asks. “Then you may want to think twice before you buy furniture from Waldner’s.” The site includes locked-out workers’ personal stories and contact information for furniture sales, installation, and delivery companies that are in good standing with Local 814.
The union is also doing “targeted outreach” to customers like the MTA, Macy’s, and the city and state university systems, and plans to “double down” its efforts at NewYork-Presbyterian, Tysh said.
Locked-out worker Jim Awgul pointed at a security officer trying to keep the protesters on the far side of the sidewalk. “I delivered furniture to this gentleman’s office,” he told the crowd. “I feel like we’re being disrespected by this institution.”
Asked how to spell his name, he answered, “Awgul, like ‘awful’ but with a G. And what they’re doing to us is awful.”
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