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St. Mary’s set to vote on workers union

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The National Labor Relations Board has set Aug. 17 as the date service and maintenance workers at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children will hold a vote on whether to unionize.

Representatives from the hospital and organizers from 1199/SEIU met at the NLRB office in Brooklyn July 25, where they signed an agreement to hold the vote in two shifts at the hospital, which is at 29-01 216th St. in Bayside.

Tony Wagner, a spokesman for the NLRB, said a simple majority of the approximately 210 employees who petitioned the board will be required in order to unionize. He said the ballots would be counted immediately and either side has the right to contest the results.

The non-management workers at the hospital, which include positions such as certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses, as well as housekeepers and clerks, held a meeting last month at the Knights of Columbus building on Bell Boulevard, where several cited unfair wages, poor working conditions and poor communication with management as their reasons for wishing to unionize.

Moses St. Louis, an 1199/SEIU organizer, also claimed that managers at the hospital were illegally writing down the names of employees at union meetings, all of which hospital Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Frerichs denied.

The union has filed two unfair labor practice charges with the board claiming adverse employment action was taken against two employees, though the union has not requested the election be delayed´╗┐´╗┐. Leslie Johnson, a representative for the hospital, wrote in an e-mail that no employee had been retaliated against. The complaint, Wagner said, was still under investigation.

Several hospital workers have claimed that their managers have been systematically pulling employees off the floor one at a time for 20 to 30-minute meetings in which they discourage the workers from unionizing. While not an illegal practice, the workers say it leaves their shifts short-staffed and is harmful to patient care.

Anthony Thomas, a licensed practical nurse, said he was in the middle of passing out medications when his manager pulled him aside and told him that if a union were formed, he could possibly lose income during a strike and may lose the current benefits he has.

“For me, it was that I was passing out meds at the time. It shouldn’t have been done then,” he said.

Johnson offered the hospital’s response: “While St. Mary’s recognizes their right to organize, we believe most employees are not fully aware of the true implications of doing so. St. Mary’s, like all health care organizations, is under the enormous pressures of today’s economic climate that have forced the recent closings of area hospitals, all of which had contracts with this union. Yet despite this constant pressure, St. Mary’s philosophy and fiscal management drive our ability to provide employees with a very attractive benefit package with many salaries above the union rate.”

A certified nursing assistant named Leona said her unit was already short-staffed when she was pulled off the floor by her manager for 25 minutes. She said there is no other time during the day their managers can speak with them, and some employees fear losing their licenses if they do not comply.

“We can’t come in early or leave late. Otherwise they write us up. It’s a no-win situation,” she said.

Johnson wrote that the hospital has a system in place to maintain appropriate staffing levels when needed.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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