Nurses at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Manhattan and members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) staged an informational picket on

Tuesday in front of the facility, to protest staff cuts and to demand a fair contract that includes cost-of-living wage increases while preserving health and pension benefits.

The nurses accuse management of only being concerned with the bottom line. At present, the center’s 112 registered nurses have been working without a contract. The most recent two-year contract expired on Dec. 31 of last year. There have been nearly a dozen negotiation sessions to reach a new agreement, none of which have been successful.

At the heart of the dispute is management’s desire to decrease the nursing staff by 26 percent, while decreasing pension and health care benefits and without any salary increase for this year.

The nurses, all of whom are represented by the NYSNA, maintain that such a large decrease in staff poses a risk to the level of patient care and to the ability of the remaining staff to effectively perform their duties. Cutting health care and pension benefits is simply unfair. Furthermore, such conditions would hamper the center’s ability to attract and retain the most skilled RNs. Cutting personnel puts an additional burden on the nursing staff, who often work double or even triple shifts.

About 40 nurses and supporters picketed in front of the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center located at 1249 Fifth Ave. The 729-bed facility, which is part of the Catholic Health Care System, provides a home for the elderly and those with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic illnesses.

The nurses maintain they are committed to their work at TCC and are willing to meet with management to discuss the proposed staff and benefit cuts, but they are not willing to simply accept these cuts, which compromise both patient care and the well-being of the nursing staff itself.

Lorna Boswell, a 17-year veteran at TCC, told the AmNews, “This is the hardest, most difficult time to get a contract.”

“They want to take away our pensions and our health care benefits and it’s not fair. We are the first line of defense when you have a sick patient with disease. Everything is exposed, and for us not to have health care benefits is a disgrace to nurses. We work very hard and put ourselves at risk for injuries and back pains. We can’t go to the doctor, yet they expect us to turn up to work everyday. All we need is a fair contract and we won’t stop until we get one,” Boswell said.

Patricia Holloman of Queens has worked as a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital for 35 years. She was on hand to show solidarity with her colleagues at TCC.

“All the nurses who are in the pension plan and in the health benefits plan have to stand together on this issue because we are also representing patients. We’re representing ourselves as advocating for patients and against cuts in the health care system and in pensions for public employees, many of whom are nurses from the health and hospital corporation,” she said.

Jose Mercado, whose mother has been a patient at TCC for 13 years, offered his support to the nurses, whom he said have given his mother excellent care.

“They do everything that they have to do for my mother and other patients. They go beyond what they’re supposed to do. These ladies sometimes work two or three shifts. They do so much for the patients at this facility. It’s a shame that the ninth floor doesn’t get together and give them better contracts and better treatment. I support them completely,” Mercado said. “There is a lot of waste that goes on. If you want to save money on the things you waste, you would have enough money to hire more staff instead of cutting staff and money to give these people more benefits, because they truly deserve them.” he said.

“This place is unique. We came here years back for some reason. It’s not because of the money. There’s something else that brought us together,” nurse Josephine Rojas said.

“But what is it now that we have? I understand how the climate is, but this is just so extreme. Everything is going up, but what about us? We have families too. It’s not that we are not going to be flexible with the way the times are, but the cuts are too extreme. They should not forget the men and women who come here everyday. The heart of this place is supposedly caring for people, and also caring for the people who dedicate their lives to caring for them,” Rojas said.

“I would like to say to management that we are important to the institution. We are only asking for our health care benefits and our pension plan, just to maintain those things. We are nurses. We take care of others and we would like for management to take care of us,” said Vivian Johnson, a 16-year veteran who is also the president of the NYSNA.

Roxanne Romney and Chastity Cruise Hamilton, representing Columbia Presbyterian Hospital nurses, were there to support the TCC nurses as they face similar contract negotiations, charging that management want to cut benefits and is only willing to engage in secret negotiations.

“They are trying to change the health care benefits and take away what the nurses have,” Romney said. “It’s basically the same situation.” They want secret sidebar negotiations and we won’t do that. We know that management does not want us to have a picket but they still haven’t said, ‘come on let’s negotiate right away.’ We have our next session after the picket on July 26,” she said.

At press time, calls for response from TCC management were not returned.

Three more informational protests are set for Tuesday, July 26, from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. at Allen Hospital, 5141 Broadway; WHEN? TKTKTK Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, 3959 Broadway; and from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Milstein Hospital, 177 Ft. Washington Ave. For more information call 212-785-0157, ext. 177.