URMC labor unions set strike date

On Thursday evening, the two unions representing caregivers and service workers at the University of Rochester Medical Center's (URMC) Strong Memorial Hospital and River Campus issued a 10-day notice for a strike scheduled on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East represents caregivers and patient service workers at Strong Memorial Hospital. Service workers at URMC's River Campus are represented by SEIU Local 200 United. Both unions represent over 1800 workers. 99% of voting members supported the strike.

Caregivers and service workers at URMC are advocating for a living wage and comprehensive benefits to enhance retention and attract new hires.

"It feels like they want us to work more for less money," Dana Allison, patient care technician at Strong Memorial Hospital, said. "My job requires patience and understanding to provide care for the patients as they recover from surgery. Many people come in and they are nervous about their procedure, and I reassure them and their family, but sometimes, if we are short that special attention can't be given because we have so many other tasks to complete to keep surgeries flowing for the day,"

After numerous extensions, the contract for URMC patient caregivers and service workers ended on Oct. 31.

The unions say URMC's Strong Memorial Hospital faces staffing concerns crucial to its role as a level-one trauma center, and the absence of competitive wages and benefits exacerbates recruiting and retaining staff challenges.

"Amid growing shortages and consistently full capacities at hospitals, our community cannot afford to lose these crucial team members due to insufficient wages and benefits," Rochester City Council members said in a signed letter to University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf.

Both unions have filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, asserting that URMC violated federal labor laws by not engaging in good-faith bargaining.

"This employer failed its workers and our community by not returning with a counter proposal today," 1199 SEIU Vice President Tracey Harrison said. "Their failure to bargain in good faith has forced us to issue the 10-day notice. Beyond the money, it's a matter of respect for the workers who provide healthcare and student services to this community,"

URMC is the largest private sector employer in Upstate New York, ranking as the sixth largest in the state. Union representatives say the healthcare network is responsible for paying workers a living wage and uplifting them from poverty.

"The rents in the city are so high, "Julie Clough, Courier for Clinical Labs, said. "I went from paying $800 per month to $1,200 per month, and it takes a full month's worth of paychecks, "After rent is paid, I have only a little left to pay other bills and to eat. Right now, I work full-time, but I live paycheck to paycheck, and I worry if I have enough food to eat."

Up to this point, both parties have engaged in 30-day-long bargaining sessions, only reaching a consensus on non-economic matters.

URMC has released the following statement regarding the one-day strike.

The University of Rochester has been negotiating in good faith since late August with union representatives from 1199SEIU and 200United SEIU for a multi-year contract renewal that is competitive, fair, and equitable. Despite our extensive efforts, SEIU submitted an intent to strike notice on Thursday, Nov. 30, with a one-day strike action scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Dec. 13. Contingency plans are in place that will ensure that all University operations and activities, including patient care at the Medical Center, will continue without disruption. University officials are confident that in the event of a prolonged strike, campus operations will continue as normal without interruption, however they are always willing and prepared to meet at the bargaining table to continue to negotiate a fair and equitable contract. The University recognizes and respects 1199SEIU and 200United SEIU's right to engage in a strike, which is a legally protected union activity.

1199 SEIU Vice President Tracey Harrison has said previously that the union will "stand tall on this and continue to move forward."

Contact Robert Bell at: rlbell@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @byrobbell & Instagram: @byrobbell.

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: URMC labor unions set strike date in Rochester NY