Nurses picketed NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital on Monday afternoon, calling on the administration to negotiate a new contract that would protect their health care and retirement benefits and provide higher wages.
The hospital, with 980 registered nurses, was on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic this past year and the nurses union, represented by local 1199 Service Employees International Union. The nurses contend that the hospital has not negotiated in good faith and seeks to reduce their health care benefits by requiring them to pay into the health care package.
Joining them was Queens Borough President-elect Donovan Richards and representatives of several elected officials who lent their support to the union.
An informational picket outside the hospital in Flushing called on the hospital administration “to negotiate a new contract that recognizes the excellent patient care the nurses provide and protects their health and retirement benefits.” Nurses demonstrated during their break times and non-working hours so not to interfere with patient care.
Charlie Raffanello, a senior nurse at the facility, said the hospital has not offered them a fair contract.
“We are fighting for our health care primarily and we’ve been in a contract battle for the last couple of months — we’ve met with them seven times, but we haven’t had much progress in our discussions,” Raffanello said. “They want to change our benefits and that’s going to cost us a lot of money. They are still bargaining over the figures, but it’s looking like it’s going to cost us a lot and we’d like to have the benefits that we have.”
Nurse Seeta Ozgur, a labor delivery nurse at the hospital for 20 years and a mother of two of her own children, said after working during the pandemic, “They want us to pay more for our health care coverage.”
“Right now they are disrespecting us, especially after 20 years of service,” she said. “After working through this pandemic, we deserve the same health care coverage that we had, but instead, they want us to pay in at a higher cost with less coverage — seven meetings and they haven’t budged at all.”
Nurse Marcia Wynter said she just wants to see a fair contract.
“Our contract expired on June 30, and they want us to pay thousands of dollars out of our pocket for our health and dental insurance and we are not having that,” Wynter said. “We worked too hard during COVID. We risked our lives and people died here, and some of our nurses also contracted COVID and almost died. We also take issue with nurse-patient ratio, and we are out here fighting for that too.”
Borough President-elect Richards said he came out to support the “frontline workers who braved COVID-19.”
“We stand with the workers, people who put their lives on the line during this pandemic,” Richards said. “The frontline workers need to be treated with respect and dignity — that’s why I’m here. Society shouldn’t celebrate them and then try to cut their benefits. They need and deserve their benefits.”
The hospital administration responded with the following statement:
The activity outside the hospital, which had no impact on hospital operations, was related to ongoing contract negotiations between NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and Local 1199 Registered Nurse Division, the union that represents many of our nurses. We greatly value our tremendously skilled and dedicated nurses and are optimistic that we will be able to reach a fair contract agreement with their union.
This story originally appeared on amny.com.