Assemblyman backs picket line for wages

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Health care workers from a Fresh Meadows substance abuse clinic picketed for a raise and benefits Friday, and they were supported by the lawmaker who works across the street.

Roughly 80 people marched outside of Cornerstone of Medical Arts Center as union organizers held a vote on whether or not to strike. The vote was set to be tallied this week.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said the unionized workers deserved a raise, which they had not had since 2005, for keeping the once-unpopular substance abuse facility running smoothly.

“To go six years without a raise and contract is unfair,” he said.

The workers had been in negotiations with hospital brass since 2005, when the facility wanted to renegotiate the conditions of the employees’ contracts. The hospital wanted to end the benefit program, and when the union refused the workers were denied raises and contracts.

On Friday, workers wearing purple shirts marched along the sidewalk outside the quiet medical facility, at 159-05 Union Tnpk., in an effort to keep their pensions, family health care and dental and vision coverage in addition to getting a raise.

In the summer of 2008´╗┐, when Cornerstone moved into the Union Turnpike facility from the one in Midtown Manhattan´╗┐, it was met with vehement opposition from the community, which did not want a substance abuse facility in its backyard, according to Lancman.

But 1199 SEIU, the health care workers union, convinced local officials that the facility would be run professionally.

Due to the low turnover in the workforce — many of those picketing had worked for longer than a decade, some as long as 30 years — and high caliber of the employees, the facility has seen few problems since relocating from Manhattan, he said.

Lancman took up the fight when he heard that the workers had been denied a pay increase.

“I was shocked,” he said. “Things have really reached a critical point.”

If the quality of workers decreases, Lancman said, the quality of the hospital would decline.

“If there is turnover and lack of professionalism and training, it’s going to have a very negative effect,” he said.

Negotiations had been fruitless.

“We have been trying to negotiate a contract for the last six years,” said Donald Crosswell, vice president of the union.

The median salary for the 120 workers is roughly $30,000, and without a 3 percent raise for the last five years many workers have lost out on about $4,500.

Many have second jobs to support their families, according to Crosswell and depend on the benefits offered by Cornerstone.

While the unionized workers have been at the table for more than half a decade, Crosswell said management staff has enjoyed both benefits and raises over the years.

“We’ve become somewhat second-class employees,” Crosswell said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 11:09 am, October 12, 2011
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