Flushing nurses ratify contract

By Joe Anuta

The nurses at Flushing Hospital Medical Center voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a new three-year contract after a tentative agreement was reached last week, the union announced Friday.

The New York State Nurses Association, which did not give a breakdown of the vote, represents the 420 registered nurses at the hospital who had set a strike deadline of Feb. 7 after negotiations failed to produce an accord. Their contract expired Dec. 31.

“The RNS believe this new contract— which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 and runs through Dec. 31, 2014 — will help to address the nurses’ concerns about recruitment, retention and staffing,” the union said in a statement. The group said the vote was “overwhelmingly” in favor.

Under the new contract, the registered nurses will be reinstated to the union pension plan with full credit. The strike vote was set after management declined to sign an interim agreement that would have extended pension and health benefits for six months as the labor talks continued.

The nurses will receive 2 percent wage increases in two stages on July 7, 2013 and July 6, 2014. Hourly per diem rates will also rise, the union said.

The contract calls for the nurses to contribute between $25 and $100 a month for health insurance coverage. Prescriptions will be filled for free at pharmacies affiliated with MediSys, the parent company of Flushing Hospital.

After the contract was ratified, the management of Flushing Hospital expressed its pleasure at reaching an agreement.

“We can now move forward with that behind us,” a spokesman for the hospital said. “It’s a positive for everyone.”

The strike notice was dropped Saturday when the two sides agreed to a tentative contract after what the union described as a day-long negotiating session.

On Jan. 5, nurses picketed outside of the hospital, slamming management for not signing the interim agreement that would have continued pension and health insurance benefits. The agreement is what the union described as bargaining “in good faith.”

Ken Margolies, of the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations, said the hospital’s refusal to sign the agreement was its way of playing hardball.

“It’s normal when parties are in negotiations to maintain the status quo,” he said in an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers shortly after the picketing session.

The move not to keep the nurses’ pensions going was a way to put pressure on their union. In addition, it would be one more thing they would have to ask for at the bargaining table, he said.

While at one time the move might have been outrageous, Margolies said it is becoming more common as unions lose clout across the nation.

“Things like that are becoming less unusual because more and more employers are playing hardball,” he said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

More from Around New York