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Nurses, caregivers hold protest for better jobs, care

Stephon Johnson | 6/26/2014, 2:48 p.m.
Nurses, caregivers hold protest for better jobs, care

It was a hot day in late spring, but health care workers were turning up the heat on their bosses last Wednesday.

Standing on what they called “informational picket lines,” nurses and caregivers held a citywide protest for quality care and better jobs at 100 facilities throughout the five boroughs.

The rallies marked the beginning stages of an effort to educate patients and the public about health care CEOs who workers feel are threatening the quality of health care services and jobs in New York City.

“Health care delivery is shifting to outpatient facilities, and these are the jobs of the future,” said 1199SEIU President George Gresham in a statement. “Income inequality is out of control in America, especially here in New York City, and we need more good, middle-class jobs for working families, not dead-end jobs with low wages and meager benefits. We want to make sure all health care jobs are good jobs for working New Yorkers, with economic security for all communities.”

At Mount Sinai Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, workers rallied in 90-degree heat while other members of the hospital, including some dressed in suits, took cellphone pictures of them as they stood outside of the hospitals’ main entrance.

“We are the union! The mighty, mighty union!” chanted health care workers outside of Mount Sinai.

But throughout the loud vocals and the righteous anger, caregivers wanted to remind people that their health is just as important as that of the patients they care for.

“Many of my patients have compromised immune systems,” said Neyra Smiling, a registered nurse at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, in a statement. “I need to make sure that I don’t bring any illness to work, because even a small cold could send one of my patients to the emergency room. Health care for health care workers is a public health issue, and CEOs ought to know that keeping caregivers healthy is essential to keeping our communities healthy.”

1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union that represents nurses and health care workers, has been in master contract negotiations with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, the employer group representing most private hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in downstate New York. According to union leaders, employers have threatened workers with changes that could result in significant job losses for 55,000 low-wage workers and future cuts for over 110,000 total members. Union leaders also said that employers are threatening the economic health of communities by opening outpatient facilities with substandard, non-union jobs.

Caregivers have launched a campaign featuring radio, web, bus and subway ads and a website called CareForNY.org to inform the public of what’s at stake while they aim to reach an agreement with their employers before the July 15 expiration date on the current master contract.

The workers let their employers know that quality health care depends on healthy caregivers.

“We provide quality care to our patients every day, but CEOs don’t want us to have quality care for ourselves and our children,” said Francis Clarke, a certified nursing assistant at the Parker Jewish nursing home in Queens, in a statement. “I’m raising two children with asthma, and my modest wages haven’t kept up with inflation. I cannot afford cuts to our health care. That’s why I’m taking a stand for the health of my children and all the other working families.”