NEW YORK NURSE: January/February 2012
by Mark Genovese
As this edition went to press, local bargaining unit members at Flushing Hospital were preparing to strike on Feb 7.
This would be the first NYSNA strike since 2002 and the fifth strike vote since October 2011.
Flushing management is demanding givebacks from the nurses that would devastate their family finances. To strong arm the nurses into accepting the concessions, it refused to sign an interim agreement to continue health and pension benefits after the contract expired on Dec. 31, 2011.
The nurses responded with an energetic informational picket on Jan. 5, 2012, that drew more than 200 bargaining unit members and supporters, including New York State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who represents the area. “This is not the first time I’ve been here and we’re going to keep coming until we have this issue resolved,” Stavisky said to a cheering crowd, “because nurses are entitled to a pension and they’re entitled to healthcare like everybody else.”
Such interim agreements are standard practice, continuing this essential coverage for six months while the parties continue to negotiate. Under federal law, nurses’ health benefits continue for 90 days whether an interim agreement is signed or not. But because there’s no such provision for pensions, the RNs are currently out of the NYSNA plan.
Health and pension coverage have been the main issues of contention in contract talks. Management has put proposals on the table that could cost some nurses $150,000 in lost retirement income, eliminate early retirement, and replace the pension for new hires with a 401(k) plan. Management wants to increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs for most nurses by $4,800 per year, yet it’s offering no salary increase to help nurses cope – except for a $1,200 payment during the last month of the contract. It also wants to cut paid time off and overtime, eliminate flex scheduling in med/surg and pediatrics, and remove restrictions on floating.
At the next negotiation session, management refused to back off its demands, then canceled any further dates, which, in turn, forced the nurses to overwhelmingly vote on Jan. 20 to authorize a strike.
“This situation has left us with our backs to a wall,” said Theresa McGorty, co-chairperson of the bargaining unit. McGorty noted that she, along with many of her colleagues, grew up in this neighborhood and delivered their children at this hospital. They helped keep the hospital open during bankruptcy by freezing their experience differential and accepting a wage freeze.
“We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We just need to be able to recruit and retain professional registered nurses by keeping us in line with other facilities,” McGorty said, adding that management negotiators have been insulting, degrading and disrespectful of the hospital’s 420 RNs. “Having no benefits and no pension after 35 years of service is like a slap in the face.”