St. Mary’s union workers rally for a new contract

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Outcries from St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital union workers were met with political support last week as members organized outside the facility to rally for a new contract.

Member nurses and other caregivers of 1199SEIU from St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Bayside, draped in yellow rain ponchos, chanted “Be fair to those who care” and “No contract, no peace” as they marched near the hospital entrance Aug. 1.

The protestors, who said they represented more than 300 employees, unified in support of a renewed agreement with the hospital for better benefits, including health insurance and access to education opportunities.

Claire E. Thompson, a registered nurse, vice president and area director of 1199SEIU’s Registered Nurse Division, grabbed a megaphone as the workers gathered around her in the pouring rain.

“We always have to twist the wrists of greed,” Thompson said. “This is a serious fight.”

The union said St. Mary’s’ recorded operating revenues were $93 million in 2010 and $4.3 million in profits, according to its most recent tax filing.

And while the workers rallied outside, the hospital was in the middle of undergoing a major expansion project.

A spokeswoman at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital said contract discussions were ongoing and kept the workers’ best interests as a top priority.

“St. Mary’s continues to negotiate in good faith with 1199,” the spokeswoman said. “Our end goal is to make certain that we continue to provide care with New York’s sickest children while we remain financially sustainable.”

Joining the workers and braving the rain were state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece and state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), who opted out of hiding under an umbrella to show his support in telling the workers they were “doing God’s work.”

“The 1199 members at St. Mary’s deserve a fair contract, plain and simple,” Avella said over the megaphone. “Nurses and caregivers serve my district’s most-severely ill children, and to deny them affordable health care for themselves and their own children or training that would allow them to better care for our young patients is outrageous.”

Assemblywoman and congressional candidate Grace Meng (D-Flushing) also expressed support for the workers, praising their value to the community.

“The nurses and other caregivers at St. Mary’s care for our sickest children and deserve quality health care for themselves and their families,” said Meng. “I fully support their efforts today and will continue to stand with them until they get the contract and benefits they need and deserve.”

Lisa Leonard, a single parent from Flushing, has worked at St. Mary’s for eight years and her last raise was for 30 cents an hour in 2008, she said. She said she was pressing for more affordable health care because her current insurance was not cutting it.

“We love the children we care for. They’re like our own kids. After almost a year of trying to get executives to listen to our concerns, we’re out here as a last resort to make our voices to be heard,” Leonard said. “I make so little right now that I have my daughter on Child Health Plus.”

Contract negotiations have been ongoing, the workers said, as they spoke out to demand a fairer agreement that provides the same health care coverage and benefits as tens of thousands of 1199SEIU members in hospitals and nursing homes throughout the city.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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