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N.Y. hospitals, union extend contract talks


By Barbara Benson, Crain's New York Business
Posted: July 13, 2014 - 12:01 am ET
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New York hospitals and the state's powerful healthcare union are making progress on contract negotiations, despite a rough start marked by an aggressive advertising campaign and informational picketing by 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

The healthcare facilities, represented by the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, said Friday that the two sides agreed to extend their current labor agreement to July 30 so they can continue to negotiate. The agreement was set to expire on July 15.

The extension is a formality but "reflects the belief from both sides that some progress has been made in the bargaining to date," said Bruce McIver, the League's president, in a statement. "This extension will provide both sides with a greater opportunity to negotiate and build towards a comprehensive long-term agreement."

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George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU, said in a statement that the union is "negotiating in good faith to try to settle a fair contract by the new expiration date of July 30, and we will do whatever it takes to protect quality healthcare and good jobs for New Yorkers."​

So far there has been no talk of a strike by the union as it presses for a fair contract. But 1199 SEIU has shown its willingness to push back in contract talks. After an aggressive public-relations battle and strike threat that began in early March, the union just reached a tentative contract agreement covering 2,000 of its workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

In the weeks leading up to this announcement, 1199 SEIU had run an ad campaign and a day of informational picketing. The union's message is that all health workers should not have to pay more for their healthcare benefits. Any changes in coverage that would come out of workers' pockets was unacceptable, the union said. Negotiations over health benefit contributions continue to be an issue.

Initially, the blow-out over worker contributions to premiums caught hospital negotiators off guard. The League introduced that proposal during negotiations in late April but pulled it off the table in mid-May, long before 1199 SEIU's informational pickets were scheduled.

The union also had focused on hospital executives' salaries and the revenue generated by the large New York City hospitals, which a union spokesman said were "swimming in cash."

A second key factor in the current contract negotiations is the fact that 1199 SEIU's membership has suffered due to hospital closures, such as the recent shuttering of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. That trend will only accelerate as more care shifts to outpatient settings under New York State's Medicaid reforms. 1199 SEIU wants ambulatory-care centers, particularly ones run by local hospitals, to be staffed by unionized workers.

Some are union shops. The Levit Medical Group in Brooklyn, which last year became part of NYU Langone Medical Center's faculty practice, is unionized. Others are not. Mount Sinai Health System's Brooklyn Heights ambulatory-care center, for example, is nonunion.

"New York doesn't need dead-end jobs," said an 1199 SEIU spokesman in June. "All healthcare jobs need to be union."

"Hospitals, health care union extend contract talks" originally appeared in Modern Healthcare's sister publication Crain's New York Business.


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