Union stages vigil

GLOVERSVILLE – Nathan Littauer Hospital union members and their supporters called for a fair contract during a candlelight vigil in front of the hospital Thursday.

Health care workers, labor unions and community supporters conducted what they called a vigil to bring attention to contract negotiations between the hospital and a union representing more than 375 workers there.

“They [the health care workers] have gained a lot of strength from the local community and leaders, and they just want to get a fair contract that will help the community and them,” said Maureen Tomlinson, organizer of the union, SEIU 1199.

“The truth is it’s about more support from the community,” said Christy Carpenter-Hughes, a certified nursing assistant and nursing home delegate.

Many of the health care workers on Thursday stressed the quality of work union members provide directly affects the overall appeal and service provided by the hospital.

Tomlinson said she was expecting more than 100 people to show up for the vigil.

“We have a session coming up on Monday that is with a federal mediator,” Tomlinson said. “However, the hospital has made it pretty clear that it is not to be construed that they are going to change their last and final offer.”

In a news release today, the hospital said it initiated the contract negotiations in spring 2012 and hopes to have a resolution soon.

“As we have stated in the beginning of this process, without a doubt, the members of 1199 are valued members of the Littauer team and of our community,” the hospital said in the statement.

The hospital said it has heard the concerns about the shortfall in the union members’ pension plan.

“We truly feel terribly for our employees who must suffer the repercussions of their pension’s deficit,” the statement said.

The news release said that for years, the contract between the workers and hospital required either the union or unionized employees to remedy any shortfalls, and not the hospital.

“Our position is clear,” the news release said. “Our responsibility to all of our employees, to our patients and to our community is paramount. We cannot allocate scarce resources to a single group to the detriment of our organization and our patients.”

During the vigil, Craig Jones, pastor of Amsterdam First Baptist Church, offered an opening prayer. He said the contract dispute hits close to his heart because his grandmother was a nurse in the Buffalo area for a long time, and he understands the value of health care workers.

Several labor unions attended the vigil to show their support, including the New York State Nurses Association, CSEA 818, the Capital Region Area Labor Federation and others.

“We’ll be standing with the 1199 SEIU workers for as long as it takes to get a fair contract,” Frank Natalie, executive vice president of the Capital Region Area Labor Federation, said in a prepared statement. “The workers at Nathan Littauer are not separate from this community – they are this community. If they aren’t treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, patient care suffers. …

“We hope through this process we can raise public awareness and put pressure on this hospital to do the right thing. Let SEIU 1199 do what they do best and that is take care of the patients here,” Natalie said.

“We are here to support the working-class family in Fulton County,” CSEA 818 President Ron Briggs said. “If we don’t take care of each other in the county, who is going to take care of us? So we have to make sure that all members of our community are making a living wage and able to support themselves.”

The vigil brought support from local politicians, including 1st Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth and 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio. Both said they were there to support the union’s efforts and the hospital workers.

The union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, has been negotiating with the hospital for nine months. The last contract expired June 30.

The union includes more than 375 hospital workers, including certified nursing assistants, nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, laboratory and radiation technicians, and dietary, housekeeping, central supply, pharmacy and maintenance employees.

For the time being, provisions of the 1199 union’s previous contract have been extended.

The union says the hospital’s proposals for a new contract would jeopardize the workers’ pensions and their futures. The hospital’s proposals would have a serious effect on the day-to-day lives of the workers and their families by making significant changes to how they receive sick, vacation and personal time, 1199 spokeswoman Mindy Berman said.

The workers say funding the pensions at a sustainable level is a critical part of the negotiations because many of the workers have been there for decades and none are high-wage earners. They have been counting on their pensions to fund their retirement, she said.

Berman said at the last negotiations at the end of January, the hospital put its last and final offer on the table and wouldn’t move in negotiations.

The hospital agreed to a meeting Monday, when a federal mediator will be present.