4/23/08

SEIU 1199 organizers subdue nursing home

Iroquois Nursing Home in Jamesville has dropped its challenge of a March 7 election in which workers at the home voted to join 1199 SEIU, the health care workers union. Both sides reached a settlement Tuesday, said Al Davidoff, an 1199 vice president. The National Labor Relations Board was scheduled to hear Iroquois' objection to the vote this week.

As part of the deal, both sides agreed to begin negotiating a contract next month, Davidoff said.

"The workers worked long and hard for this," Davidoff said. "They now have their union and they will have the opportunity to work out a good contract."

Iroquois officials did not return phone calls for this story.

Union members plan to rally in downtown Syracuse this afternoon to celebrate the settlement at Iroquois and focus attention on contract negotiations under way at Crouse and Community General hospitals.

The rally will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Oncenter.

Many of 1199 SEIU's contracts with hospitals and nursing homes across Upstate New York expire April 30.

Prior to the settlement, 1199 accused Iroquois of waging an anti-union campaign by intimidating workers. The union had filed complaints with the NLRB, accusing the nursing home of illegally firing three workers who spoke out in favor of the union.

Davidoff said there was a "positive resolution" of those three cases as part of the settlement, but he would not disclose any specifics.

"All three workers were satisfied with what was arrived at," he said.

About 130 workers including certified nurse aides, housekeepers and maintenance staff were eligible to vote in last month's election. Licensed practical nurses did not vote, but may vote in the future, Davidoff said.

Crouse, Community General and St. Joseph's hospitals built Iroquois 16 years ago.

Union negotiators are making progress in contract talks at Crouse, but spinning their wheels at Community General, according to Davidoff. The union represents about 1,900 workers at Crouse and 900 at Community General.

Community does not have enough nurses and other workers to operate the hospital, Davidoff said. The union hopes to address the staffing issue in negotiations, he said.

"Workers at times are being required to work extra long hours to make up for short staffing," he said.

Davidoff said 14 emergency department registered nurses quit at Community over the past 18 months because of morale problems caused by short staffing.

Community spokeswoman Gillian Ottman said negotiations are still in the early stage and the hospital is optimistic the talks will lead to a new contract.

"One of the union's negotiating strategies is to attempt to portray working conditions in a negative light and publicize various accusations against management," Ottman said. "While we disagree with this approach, we will continue to work together toward a negotiated resolution of all issues."

(syracuse.com)

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