As the New Year begins, an energized union movement is gearing up to finish off some of its battles and take on new challenges.

Locally, despite gains made by St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital nurses, other members of the New York State Nurses Association around the city haven’t been able to resolve their labor negotiations amicably. Upset over management plans to stop payments to their health and pension plans, the registered nurses at Flushing Hospital Medical Center have announced a plan to protest during the first week of 2012. The protest was slated to take place today (Thursday) from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front to the hospital at 4500 Parsons Blvd.

The nurses in Flushing are in the middle of new contract negotiations with management and are looking to improve their working conditions, but in the meantime, hospital CEO Robert Levin refused to sign an interim agreement to continue benefit plans while negotiations continue.

The current contract expired on Dec. 31, 2011. The interim agreements would guarantee continuation of benefits for six months after contract expiration. Health benefits will continue 90 days after expiration whether the interim agreement is signed or not, but their pension plan would end on Jan. 1, 2012.

Nurses emphasize the critical nature of their health and pension coverage because their positions not only expose them to contagious diseases, but are high-stress jobs that often result in neck and back injuries and other health-related issues that can often limit their careers and quality of life.

According to the NYSNA, Levin’s proposals that are already on the table would cost each nurse $150,000 in lost lifetime pension benefits and wouldn’t provide a wage increase for three years.

Speaking of other union folks who do some of the toughest jobs in the city, office cleaners in New York City averted a strike with a New Year’s Eve deal with the Realty Advisory Board, which represents building owners. The workers are represented by SEIU 32BJ. In a recent press release, the union said that a tentative deal was on the table that would last for four years and provide close to a 5.6 percent wage increase over the contract’s life and bonuses totaling $1,100 for workers, with employer-paid family health care coverage carrying over from the last deal.

“The new contract is not just an important victory for office cleaners and their families, but for our economy and our city,” said Secretary-Treasurer of 32BJ Hector Figueroa. “In these tough times, the workers who keep New York City’s corporate offices and landmark buildings clean and well maintained have stood up for the good, middle-class jobs our economy and our city needs.”

If a deal wasn’t reached, janitors and other office cleaners in cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles, said they would honor a pledge of hitting the picket lines if the labor issue became a regional issue.