By Mark Hallum
Health-care workers at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children have reached a settlement with management after a labor dispute nearly pushed the employees to the brink of striking. In September, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, one of the largest unions in the state, was demanding a better health insurance plan, an improved retirement plan, and a 3 percent raise which would put these workers in line with the compensation their equals receive at neighboring facilities.
“I am truly glad we have an agreement with St. Mary’s Hospital for Children that provides for the maintenance of good jobs at fair wages, and quality care for the children at the hospital,” 1199SEIU President George Gresham said.
Alex Mirasol has been an RN at St. Mary’s for 12 years and was on the negotiating committee.
“I’m pleased with this agreement and the decent salary increase, which reflects the importance of the work we do,” he said. “Now we will continue what we do best, caring for New York’s sickest children. I’m looking forward to working with management in the future.”
Benson Mathew, an 1199SEIU organizer, said during the picket in September 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.
“It was great to learn that St. Mary’s Hospital for Children reached an agreement with 1199 SEIU,” Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said. “This is a clear victory for every child and family that has been healed, treated, taught or simply changed by the miracles that happen every day at St. Mary’s. The passionate staff and employees who go above and beyond every day are the unsung heroes that are now protected with this new contract.”
Mathew said the union was negotiating for a 3 percent raise with better health insurance benefits. In September, the hospital had only offered a 2 percent raise with the current 403B retirement plan and Etna insurance. According to the October release, the negotiating parties had settle on a satisfactory wage increase as well as a “significant” boost in benefits.
“We greatly value each of our employees who work hard every day to provide the best care for New York’s most critically ill and injured children,” St. Mary’s CEO Dr. Eddie Simpser said. “We are proud to have come to an agreement with 199SEIU that allows us to offer this generous salary increase and excellent benefits.”
At the September picket, healthcare workers expressed love for the work they had done over the course of their careers with the children at St. Mary’s, but felt they were too long overdue for a wage increase comparable to others in their field at nearby Queens hospitals.
Lisa Leonard, a rehab assistant, said she felt as though management was overlooking their needs.
“A lot of workers have been here for years and years. They have no pension,” Leonard said in September. “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.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall