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Flushing Hospital to resume talks next week

TimesLedger Newspapers

Flushing Hospital Medical Center, facing a strike threat early next month from its registered nurses, said it is planning to begin talks with the union again next week.

Hundreds of Flushing Hospital registered nurses announced Tuesday they intend to strike Feb. 7 unless a suitable settlement can be hammered out with management before then.

The notice to strike came after more than a year of contract negotiations, which union leaders said had produced little or no progress. The contract expired Dec. 31, 2011.

“Flushing Hospital Medical Center will resume its negotiations with the New York State Nurses Association next week,” the hospital said in a statement. “Flushing Hospital seeks to reach a fair agreement with its staff who are members of the NYSNA.

Management’s recent decision to cut off health insurance and pensions has stirred resentment among the nurses at the medical center, which is operated by MediSys Health Network.

The 420 RNs are represented by the New York State Nurses Association, which said the Flushing nurses would strike at 7:15 a.m. Feb. 7.

The union filed notice of intent to strike with the National Labor Relations Board, hospital management and the New York Police Department. NLRB rules require at least a 10-day notice of intent to strike.

Union leaders said that besides salaries, the major sticking points are health insurance and pensions.

Last month hospital management refused to sign interim agreements to guarantee continuation of health insurance and pension coverage for six months after the contract expired while both sides continued to talk.

Health benefits will continue for 90 days after the Dec.31 expiration date whether the interim agreement is signed or not.

But the pension plan ended Jan. 1.

“This situation has left us with our backs to a wall,” said Theresa McGorty, RN and co-chairwoman of the union bargaining unit.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said she understood that the vote to authorize a strike was “overwhelming.”

“These nurses bear the burden in our health establishment, which must be protected,” she said. “Their own health is vital to us all.”

McGorty said she, along with many of her colleagues, grew up in the Flushing neighborhood and delivered their children in the hospital.

She said the nurses helped keep the hospital open during Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in the late 1990s by freezing their experience differential and accepting a wage freeze. MediSys Health Network also runs Jamaica Hospital in Queens and Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn.

“We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary,” McGorty said. “We just need to be able to recruit and retrain professional registered nurses by keeping in line with other facilities.”

McGorty said management negotiators have been insulting, degrading and disrespectful of the nurses.

“Having no benefits and no pension after 35 years of service is like a slap in the face,” she said.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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