NEW YORK NURSE: April 2011
by Mark Genovese
Brooklyn Hospital Center nurses did their part five years ago to help the hospital out of bankruptcy, agreeing to freeze their wages and experience scale.
These concessions were understood to be temporary. Yet today, hospital management is demanding the nurses change their current pension plan to one that would greatly lower their standard of living after retirement.
More than 150 RNs and supporters took part in a protest on Feb. 23 in front of the Fort Greene facility. To show management they will not back down, they plan to hold additional protests during the next several weeks. The most recent 18-month contract for the 500 RNs expired in December 2010.
“This is a brutal attack on the nurses’ pension, health benefits, and salaries,” said LBU Grievance Chair Joyce Cave Anderson. “If enacted, these cuts in the short-term will negatively impact our families. In the long-term, these cuts will hinder the progress of our profession. They will eradicate the benefits negotiated in previous contracts. These cuts shock the conscience!”
“Due to my age and length of service at the hospital, I’ll have to work more years to accumulate what the nurses who are retiring, or who have already retired are getting now,” said Folake Adekunle, LBU secretary. “Not to mention I will have to save a lot more, leaving me with less for my household.”
The RNs want to be sure that cuts in RN compensation don’t lead to executive bonuses. During the demonstration, RNs pointed out the unfairness of demanding givebacks from the nurses while CEO Richard Becker continues to receive excessive increases in an already generous salary. They chanted: “Pension cuts, NO way! Dr. Becker, cut YOUR pay!”
In the last contract, the RNs had no 2009 salary increase because the hospital insisted it didn’t have the money. But NYSNA’s investigation of the hospital’s 2009 tax returns indicated the hospital ended the year with a $2.5-million surplus. Becker was paid nearly $1 million with a $115,000 bonus for six month’s work in 2008.
The nurses also want to make the public aware of the amount the hospital is paying the senior vice president of nursing, and the other senior vice presidents – including bonuses. Management has refused NYSNA’s requests for finacial information.
“The hospital alledges it doesn’t have the financial capacity to continue to offer the nurses their current benefits,” Adekunle added. “Yet it continually refuses to furnish financial documents to prove this. This type of behavior fosters an atmosphere of distrust, making it hard to sympathize with the institution.”
This contract dispute is NYSNA’s first to concern the “alternative” pension plan. The “alternative” plan was created last fall to encourage the trustees who represent the employers to vote in favor of maintaining the current NYSNA Pension Plan’s benefit structure.
Trustees representing NYSNA members agreed that an alternative offering a lesser benefit and saving money for the employers could be developed. This “alternative” plan has no provision to offer an unreduced early retirement benefit for RNs aged 60 with 20 years’ service and would also change the future calculation formula from 1.6 percent to 1.35 percent.
NYSNA, however, has never wavered from its objective to maintain the benefits of the current plan. Both sides agreed that this plan would be entirely optional, but Brooklyn Hospital opened negotiations by demanding that the bargaining unit switch to it.
“This ‘alternative’ would force nurses to give up on thousands upon thousands of dollars in retirement savings for the rest of their lives,” said NYSNA Nursing Representative Michael Hertz. “Brooklyn RNs work as hard as other NYSNA RNs and deserve the same pension benefits.”