Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reportage: Union Nurse and Healthcare Worker Picket

Registered Nurses & Healthcare Workers Stand Together in Informational Picket and Strike Vote

New York healthcare unions NYSNA and 1199 SEIU unite to battle bad-faith bargaining, Unfair Labor Practices and union busting during two-year negotiation struggle with Fresenius Kidney Care

By John Pietaro

It was a chilly, overcast morning as members of the New York State Nurses Association and 1199 SEIU took the Brooklyn and Bronx streets. Registered Nurses, Technicians, Social Workers, Dietitians, environmental and clerical staff have been in contract negotiations with dialysis juggernaut Fresenius Kidney Care for over two years. Both unions’ negotiation proceedings have been riddled with negativity from the employer, globally the largest and most profitable of dialysis providers. Fresenius boasts a dense network of facilities across the Americas, Europe, the Far East and other regions. Recent reports state that the company’s profits are in the range of $1.5 BILLION.
“Our clinic is staffed short almost every night”, said Stacey White RN, a Fresenius employee and NYSNA delegate. “All I can say is that Fresenius just doesn’t seem to care. Many evenings, we have only two instead of the necessary three nurses on duty--and management has no plan to bring in another. Techs are scheduled the same way. This can jeopardize our patients’ safety”. The union healthcare professionals and technicians have regularly voiced their protest to such dangerous staffing practices.

Bernadette Hankey-Johnson RN, long-time Fresenius employee, felt similarly. “We are always so busy. If the nurses and Techs weren’t so vigilant…” Nurse Hankey-Johnson looked away pensively, tightly clutching a placard reading PATIENTS BEFORE PROFITS.  In the distance others on the line began cheering as truckers’ horns sounded out in support. The thicket of traffic on Atlantic Avenue joined in noisily, excitedly. HONK FOR PATIENT CARE! another placard asked, and passing police cars rang sirens resoundingly.

The unions involved have bargained in good faith toward fair contracts, seeking to maintain union health benefits and pensions, and acquire moderate raises and incremental differential increases for experience. Employees’ last saw raises more than six years back. NYSNA is also seeking a clinical committee to elicit change as needed for safe staffing. However Fresenius continues to present harsh proposals which would take away health benefits and pensions or obliterate union security. The choices have been flagrantly disrespectful.

In 2015 Fresenius closed the Brooklyn Kidney Center, a union facility, and initially stated that the clinic opening in its place would continue to honor the twin union contracts. Though management and the unions met to arrange for the laid-off staff to move to the new site, Fresenius leadership later informed the unions that the company will not honor its earlier promise. The company claims that the site on DeGraw Street in Gowanus is not a replacement but a new operation. Many Fresenius employees remain laid-off after the closure and none have been offered work opportunities at the expansive DeGraw site. NYSNA filed charges of Unfair Labor Practice with the National Labor Relations Board against Fresenius’ actions.

As more staff came out to join the picket, they stated that management, for the first time in memory, had ordered in lunch for them. “But none of us are partaking”, reported Mercedes Anderson-Draggon RN. “Because this lunch they’re offering is not free. The ultimate cost is too high”.

By day’s end, as the strike vote was tallied, it was clear that both NYSNA and 1199 SEIU members were fully prepared for to embark on whatever was necessary: all had voted to authorize a strike. 1199 will be meeting with Fresenius for a negotiation session on April 26; NYSNA activists will be there with them. The outcome of this will be the actual deciding vote as to what comes next. “We don’t want to strike”, one of the unionists told a sympathetic passerby, “but we will if we have to”.

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