December 12, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
Yonkers, New York – On Tuesday, December 8, after hours of negotiations, the 1199SEIU registered nurses and respiratory therapists at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers reached a tentative contract settlement with management. It is a ground breaking event in the sense that this would be the workers’ first collective bargaining agreement.
These health care professionals employed by the Center have been trying to negotiate their first collective bargaining agreement for well over a year. The primary issue was adequate staffing levels. If these levels are not maintained, it is difficult to ensure that severely ill pediatric patients receive the medical care and social interaction they require and deserve. Compensation levels were not adequate either, as caregivers said repeatedly that below market rate wages are forcing quality professionals to look elsewhere for jobs, in turn creating short-staffing at the Center. Typical of the employees that will be represented by this new collective bargaining agreement is Ms.Hilda Metcalf. She is a Respiratory Therapist (RT), and her job is to assess, treat and monitor the respiratory status of the children both on and off mechanical ventilation. To Hilda, quality care, adequate staffing and a decent contract all go together. “Getting a good contract is important to help recruit and maintain dedicated professional staff. It will help us do our jobs better. We all love our jobs and we consider the patients our children.” It is a relief to all concerned that a resolution has been reached.
1199SEIU Vice President Coraminita Mahr said, “The dedicated caregivers at the Center, the people who work directly with the children at their bedsides, were well aware that 1199SEIU contracts across the state are proven to help recruit and maintain staff. Tonight’s agreement reflects what they have been saying all along—quality care, proper staffing and a decent contract all go together in ensuring the goal of providing the best care possible for the children.” Of course the contract awaits ratification by union members. But, that is expected to take place some time next week, and at that time the contract will take effect. Specific details of the agreement will be made available at that time. In addition, management has agreed to a bargaining date for the 1199SEIU service & maintenance bargaining unit. That includes LPNs, nurses aides, food service and housekeeping workers, clerks, mechanics and others. These workers have been members of the powerful healthcare workers union for 15 years, but their most recent contract expired on April 30. They are scheduled to return to negotiations on December
- 17. In a climate where so much of the mainstream press is fond of harping on the alleged demise of organized labor, the efforts of 1199SEIU have once again proven them wrong. As a result, workers will be paid fairly, children will receive the type of health care to which they are entitled. That sounds like unions in America are very much alive.