Workers file charge against St. Mary’s

Photo by Katy Gagnon
By Phil Corso

As a labor dispute continues, workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against Bayside’s St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, accusing the facility of withholding financial information related to contract negotiations.

According to workers of 1199-SEIU at St. Mary’s, the hospital reported revenues of $93 million in 2010 and $4.3 million in profits in its most recent available filings with the IRS.

And given the ongoing expansion project at the hospital, the union workers, who represent more than 300 employees, said they wanted St. Mary’s to show where it has been spending its money so a fair contract could be drafted.

“St. Mary’s’ RNs strive daily to provide exemplary care to children in need who reside at St. Mary’s, but management’s agenda is proving to be an obstacle,” said Alex Mirasol, a nurse at St. Mary’s. “We need a fair contract now to continue our mission in providing quality care.”

The union said it filed the unfair labor practice charge against the hospital on the grounds that the hospital withheld pertinent financial information during negotiations.

But a spokeswoman for St. Mary’s said the union’s charge against the hospital was inaccurate. She contended that the hospital has kept the workers’ best interests as a top priority in the ongoing contract discussions.

She said St. Mary’s ended last year with an $8.5 million operating deficit and has a projected deficit for this year of $5 million.

“This is the fiscal reality we face as we struggle each day to provide the highest levels of patient care for 4,000 vulnerable children whose needs are unanswered by any other hospital in the region,” the spokeswoman said. “Officials at St. Mary’s have been working to reach a fair settlement, but the union needs to negotiate in good faith by using current facts, not old, inaccurate information.”

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

The unfair labor practice charge came on the heels of an informational picket held at St. Mary’s in August, which the union said did not enhance discussions at the bargaining table.

“We as health care workers at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children work together to give quality care to the children in need who reside at St. Mary’s,” said health care worker Gervaise Thompson. “What we ask for in return is a fair and respectful resolution and better compensation to each and every worker.”

Last month, the hospital workers rallied outside St. Mary’s to call for a fair contract to provide affordable health care and other benefits to employees, including pensions, job security and access to training. The rally was met with widespread political support from lawmakers, including state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside).

“In these times of limited and valuable resources, it is critical that we know where our tax dollars are going,” Avella said. “As a nonprofit hospital seeing to the care of special-needs children, St. Mary’s Hospital for Children has a unique responsibility to the community.”

Braunstein also backed the union workers and requested that the hospital comply with the workers’ calls to disclose pertinent financial information during contract negotiations.

“The workers at St. Mary’s Health Care System have requested details regarding its financial condition,” Braunstein said. “As a good faith measure in their negotiations, I believe that St. Mary’s should respond to this lawful request in a timely manner.”

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

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