St. Mary’s workers head to union vote

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As they came off the morning shift at St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Bayside Tuesday, about a dozen or so employees met with organizers from 1199/SEIU to discuss forming a union at the hospital.

A week before, a number of workers filed to have a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. The non-management employees hold positions such as certified nurse assistant, licensed practional nurse and registered nurse, and work as housekeepers, dietary workers and clerks.

Several employees who met at the Knights of Columbus building, at 35-03 Bell Blvd., cited unfair wages, poor working conditions and lack of communication with hospital management among their grievances.

Jeffrey Frerichs, the hospital’s chief executive officer, refuted the accusations as untrue.

“That’s completely bogus,” he said in a phone interview.

Childcare technician Allande Eyma said she has worked at the hospital since 1997. She said she feels as though her superiors are not willing to hear her side of the story when she is written up for violations such as clocking in only a few minutes late.

“I don’t think there should be a preference, because [my supervisor] is a supervisor and I’m not. There’s discrimination between the upper level and the bottom,” she said.

Frerichs said he had personally met with about 15 employees from three shifts to discuss such issues. “It’s pretty hard not to have your voice heard when you’re speaking with the CEO,” he said.

Mark Bergen, vice president of 1199, said he has a voting block of 251 employees, which he called a large majority of the non-managerial workers. He said workers had been retaliated against with firings and disciplinary actions for their union activities and that management had violated labor laws by taking down the names of employees at union meetings.

“I’m going to communicate to them that they’re breaking the law by doing that, and that you have the right to form a union in a fair way without coercion,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) told the employees.

A member of U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman’s (D-Bayside) office also attended the meeting.

“We’re complying with all the requiremen­ts,” Frerichs said. “We believe that it’s in the best interest of our employees not to unionize, but that’s up to them.”

St. Mary’s provides long-term rehabilitation and special care for approximately 4,000 children in nine counties in the metropolitan area. Many of the children suffer from complications stemming from premature birth.

The 60-year-old medical center, at 29-01 216th St., has 97 beds available for the hospital’s in-patient program and is currently in the midst of a $114 million expansion that will reduce the number of overcrowded rooms when completed next year.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 11:30 am, October 12, 2011
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