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Strong Memorial and U of R Campus service workers win new union contract

November 18, 2021 (2 minutes read)

Members of the union bargaining committee. Provided photo

More than 1,800 union service workers represented by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, at Strong Memorial Hospital and SEIU Local 200United at University of Rochester Campus in a near-unanimous vote on November 5 ratified a two-year agreement that includes significant improvements to staffing, wages, and benefits. Wage increases will bring workers above the $15 minimum wage before it is implemented in New York State. “In the nursing department and in other areas of the hospital – transportation, food and nutrition, and materials processing department we were all overworked and understaffed every day,” says Arleata Robin White, who has worked as a Patient Care Technician at Strong Memorial Hospital for 23 years. “We were just not feeling appreciated, especially when our workload doubled. We were prepared to picket to win a fair contract that included dignity and respect for everything we did during the pandemic and that’s why management came back with a better offer,” says White. Under the new contract, service workers will receive across-the-board wage increases ranging from four percent to 21 percent in the first year and two percent in year two. The agreement also enacts an increased minimum start rate of $15 per hour for all newly hired staff. A living wage start rate will help to recruit and retain new workers, improve staffing levels throughout the hospital/campus, and ensure quality patient care and services to students. To ensure adequate staffing levels, the contract includes staffing incentive pay. Workers who commit to work additional hours if there is a 20 percent staff vacancy for more than eight weeks can earn a bonus. Service workers who have been with the hospital and campus for more than 25 years are recognized under the new agreement by the addition of a 25-year step on their wage scale. Strong Memorial Hospital and University of Rochester Campus workers fought together for employer-provided retirement contribution improvements, long-term disability coverage increases, additional sick days, a paid Juneteenth holiday, more training and education, uniform allowances, childcare funding, and other benefits. “As service workers, we want to be treated equally and with respect,” says Tacarah Reyes, Cook 3 at University of Rochester Campus. “We want to be shown that we are valued and respected. We are all human. We want equal opportunity to make a good living. Our new contract provides the types of benefits we need to take care of our families and feel that we are valued and respected at work,” says Reyes. Hospital and Campus workers were dedicated throughout the pandemic. “We didn’t understand why service workers were not getting raises and incentives when we were also coming to work every day during the pandemic,” says White. “The contract we won really shows respect for the work we do. For me, it’s not about the job title, it’s about how we should be treated – equally like the hospital treats other workers,” says White. “I am an immigrant from Bhutan, and I applied at Strong because of the union and the benefits I could get to take care of my family. The raises we are getting now will help me to provide for them even better,” says Chuda Mainali, an Environmental Services Team Leader at Strong Memorial Hospital for ten years. Workers represented by SEIU Local 200United at the University of Rochester Campus include Building Services, Dining Services, Porters, Cooks, Stack Attendants – Library, Catering Service Assistants, Bus Drivers, Truck Drivers, and Stockkeepers. Workers represented by 1199SEIU at Strong Memorial Hospital include Environmental Service Workers, Nursing Assistants, Cooks, Food Service Workers, Dietary Workers, Dental Assistants, Drivers, Patient Care Technicians, Materials Processing Specialists, Patient Unity Secretaries, Porters, Stockkeepers, Transport Assistants, Transportation Center Workers, Truck Drivers, and Unit Support Assistants. Provided information

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