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No Way to Treat a Hero: L.I. Hospital Workers Rally for Hazard Pay

July 23, 2020

By Steve Wishnia

STONY BROOK, N.Y.—More than 250 workers at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island rallied in 90-degree heat July 22, demanding that the state university system give them $2,500 in hazardous-duty pay for working extra during the COVID-19 epidemic.

“We have workers putting their lives on the line. We need the state to come through for us.” — CSEA Local 614 President Carlos Speight.

“We have workers putting their lives on the line.” Carlos Speight, president of Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA] Local 614, told LaborPress as the rally began at the entrance to the hospital complex on the Nicolls Road highway. “We need the state to come through for us.”

Leaders of the four unions representing workers at Stony Brook University Hospital — Local 614, the Professional Employees Federation (PEF), United University Professions (UUP), and 1199SEIU — say it and its two affiliates, Southampton Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, are the only ones on Long Island that haven’t agreed to the hazard pay. In addition, says Speight, hospital management has put a scheduled 2% raise on hold for 90 days and not given workers a 75¢-an-hour hazardous-pay bonus that’s in the union’s contract.

Local 614 represents about 2,700 workers — licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, and maintenance, housekeeping, and office staff — at the hospital, Stony Brook University across the highway, and an affiliated veterans’ home.

All the other hospitals in Suffolk County provide heroes’ pay — what the hell is wrong with Stony Brook?” — 1199SEIU Vice-President Steve Kramer.

“All the other hospitals in Suffolk County provide heroes’ pay, provide recognition pay,” 1199SEIU executive vice president Steve Kramer told the demonstrators assembled in front of the hospital’s Siamese-twin hexagonal towers. “What the hell is wrong with Stony Brook?”

The State University of New York system, which oversees the hospital, did not respond to a request for comment from LaborPress.

“We’ve tried to get any kind of monetary or time thank-you,” PEF Division 225 Council Leader Tony Tirella said of the union’s meetings with hospital management. “They say the state won’t let them do it, but I don’t think they’ve really pushed the issue.”

Division 225 represents more than 2,000 nurses, emergency medical technicians, and information-technology workers at the complex.

“You have been redeployed to all shifts multiple times. You have had to use recycled PPE,” Carolyn Kube, president of UUP’s Stony Brook Health Sciences Center Chapter, told the crowd. “And not only that, you had the best outcomes on Long Island.”

The residents and fellows the union represents got assigned increased duties with no additional pay, and respiratory, operating-room, and radiology technicians all worked extra shifts, she told LaborPress afterwards. Some got infected with the virus, she added, and for all that, “we got nothing.”

“We work on the front line, and we don’t deserve to get zero. We’re taking care of all the ill people, and we deserve to get paid.” — Juanita James-Allen, emergency-room licensed practical nurse.

More than 450 union workers at the hospital, veterans’ home, and university campus have gotten infected, says Speight. They get 14 sick days, but “most of our members were out longer than that.”

“They give you 14 days, but after that they want you to go on workers’ compensation, and workers’ comp doesn’t want to pay you,” says Juanita James-Allen, an emergency-room licensed practical nurse from Medford wearing a navy-blue CSEA Local 614 facemask.

She tested positive for the virus April 24, and wasn’t able to go back to work until June, she relates. She’s hired a lawyer to help her get on workers’ comp and recoup the month’s pay she lost, and says other coworkers are experiencing similar problems.

Janet, a nurse who asked to be identified only by her first name, said she’d been gratified by the local community’s support, from people donating food to children sending drawings and cards—“but it would be nice if management gave us some kind of bonus, like the other hospitals received.”

 “You guys have been fighting for all of us and you deserve to get paid,” Nancy Goroff, a Stony Brook chemistry professor and UUP member running for Congress against Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin, told the rally. “You deserve COVID pay.”

The government came to the aid of first responders after the 9/11 attacks, noted Mike Siderakis, a retired state trooper running as the Democratic candidate to replace outgoing state Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (D-Smithtown).

“We work on the front line, and we don’t deserve to get zero. We’re taking care of all the ill people, and we deserve to get paid,” says James-Allen.

The number of patients with the virus is fewer than it was at the epidemic’s peak in April, she adds, “but people are still getting sick.”

July 23, 2020

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