Healthcare workers picket at St. Mary’s in Bayside

Healthcare workers picket at St. Mary’s in Bayside
Photo by Mark Hallum
By Mark Hallum

Healthcare workers picketed Tuesday at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside in response to slow contract negotiations with management, an organizer from 1199SEIU said. The 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, one of the largest unions in the state, is demanding a better health insurance plan, an improved retirement plan, as well as a 3 percent raise which would put these workers in line with the compensation their equals receive at neighboring facilities.

The union is currently taking votes from their members who will decide if workers will go on strike pending a 10-day notice to management which is required by the National Labor Relations Board. The hospital is located at , at 29-01 216th St.

Benson Mathew, an 1199SEIU organizer, said St. Mary’s received 30 percent more in medicaid reimbursements than other hospitals in Queens. But the workers represented by the union are 10 percent to 15 percent behind in salaries on average than others in their fields, he said.

So far, the hospital has only offered workers a 2 percent raise with the current 403B retirement plan and Etna insurance, according to Mathew.

“Over the course of more than a year of talks with 1199, St. Mary’s has worked tirelessly to balance the needs of our dedicated staff with our responsibility to our children and the financial integrity of our institution, by presenting a sound plan that includes salary increases as well as a comprehensive health insurance plan for our employees,” the hospital said in a statement. “We remain committed to reaching a fair contract with our union staff, and we look forward to continuing to negotiate with 1199 until we reach a deal.”

Lisa Leonard, a rehab assistant, said she felt as though management’s offer was “throwing pennies in the face” of workers.

“A lot of workers have been here for years and years. They have no pension,” Leonard said. “Right now we have a medical plan but we can’t afford to go to the doctor because the out-of-pocket costs are just too much. It’s sad, I’ve gotten a 30-cent raise in 13 years.”

Leonard, a single mother, said she was frustrated to learn staff at Flushing Hospital receive $7 to $8 an hour more for the same work. She said many employees have the ability to find jobs elsewhere, but would prefer to stay with St. Mary’s and the severely disabled children who they serve.

“You would think that a place that gives so much to the kids would want to do the same for their staff,” she said.

Mathew said it has been about five years since the last contract renegotiation and the results were very minimal.

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to,” Mathew said. “Because at the end of the day, these children have to be taken care of. Not only the children in the hospital as patients, but these workers have families and kids that they need to take care of too. We’re not asking for anything that is not out there in the industry. Our proposals are not unreasonable.”

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.