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Agreement reached between Brookdale Hospital and protesting Emlpoyees

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 6/14/2011, 1:42 p.m.

Workers at Brookdale Hospital walked off of the job last week in protest over a loss of health benefits. Several health care workers and their supporters stood in the lobby of the hospital to ask for answers.

Brookdale Hospital is now reporting that an agreement was reached last Friday between hospital management, employees and 1199 SEIU to end the three-day-long action.

According to 1199 SEIU, all of the approximately 3,400 health care workers at Brookdale Hospital represented by the union and their families were in danger of losing their health care coverage as of last Thursday. The union said that Brookdale had failed to make payments to the workers' health benefit fund and owed $23.4 million in arrears.

Members began gathering in the lobby of the hospital in large numbers last Wednesday to protest Brookdale management's refusal to take corrective action on the situation, despite their obligation to make payments for health benefits as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement.

"This was not a strike nor has the union authorized a strike or any such action," said 1199 in statement. "This was 3,400 workers sending a message to management that terminating workers' health benefits and leaving caregivers without access to health care themselves is a grave injustice and absolutely unacceptable."

A statement released by Brookdale indicates that a deal has been reached to allow the workers to go back to their posts.

"The employees will be assured full health benefit coverage through Blue Cross/Blue Shield, matching what they previously had through the union benefit fund," the hospital said. "This measure will be in place while the hospital seeks repayment options that will eliminate the balance in arrears to the union fund that previously had provided employees' health coverage."

Over 6,000 people are covered under the health benefit fund, including workers, their spouses and children. Brookdale had until June 30 to make a $6.1 million payment. At another rally on Thursday, City Councilman Charles Barron joined workers at Brookdale and said that security blocked the entrances of the hospital to prevent them from occupying the lobby.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams criticized Brookdale's actions, calling them"unconscionable" and stating that the contract between the employees and the administration is supposed to be in place until 2015. He accused Brookdale of breaching the contract.

"The employees have done everything right in their struggle to simply get the benefits they have earned and collectively bargained for," Williams said. "In a 2009 contract re-opener, workers agreed to forgo previously bargained raises of 6 percent over 2 years to ensure their benefit fund would be kept intact."