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by Michael Hirsch | January 17, 2013 New York Teacher issue
Nurses employed by GuildNet, a long-term managed care plan that coordinates services for seniors wishing to remain in their homes as long as possible, have won their first union contract as members of the Federation of Nurses/UFT.
Until May 2011, the 160 registered nurses at GuildNet, functioning as nurse case managers at the four-campus facility in the Greater New York area, had no union representation. Wages were frozen. They were even losing things they had, including sick days, an affordable medical plan and a fifth vacation week after five years.
“Worst of all, we could be disciplined for merely disagreeing and talking back,” said Donna Lee, a member of the bargaining team and a union delegate.
Wondering, as Lee put it, “what will they take away next,” the nurses voted to join the UFT’s registered nurses chapter in May 2011 and ratified their first contract by an overwhelming margin on Dec. 18, 2012.
“Nurses are coming up and hugging me,” Lee said. “And it’s not just about the money. We often weren’t able to give good patient care.”
According to Dominique De La Cruz, another RN on the union bargaining team, the ability to speak out for patient care without fear of reprisal was paramount.
“Now we feel like we have a voice and won’t get penalized for voicing our concerns,” she said. “We now have a process for working out differences with management. Speaking our minds won’t bring on threats.”
The new four-year contract comes with an 11.5 percent raise over four years, a $2,000 longevity differential after five years, employer-paid retirement and health benefits, a 35-hour work week with overtime pay in place of comp time, increased vacation days, a transportation allowance for those using their own cars, equalization of pay between facilities by January 2016 and a joint labor-management committee to discuss matters of mutual concern.
The Federation of Nurses/UFT didn’t go into uncharted territory when organizing the GuildNet facilities, which are part of the nonprofit Jewish Guild for the Blind.
“These were nurses who first organized themselves,” said UFT Special Representative Anne Goldman, who leads the Federation of Nurses. “Then they came to us in 2010 for technical and legal support after investigating different nurses unions in New York. They did their homework, thought we were the toughest, and together we helped get them what they, as professionals, needed and wanted.”
Lutheran Medical Center Chapter Leader Renee Setteducato, who worked with Jewish Guild for the Blind Chapter Leader Cynthia McDaniels as on-the-ground liaisons for the effort, said the organizing campaign brought back memories of their own struggles.
“We empathized with the GuildNet nurses,” Setteducato said. “We had no union when we hired in so we built our union at our workplaces. We remember what it was like to work without a union and without basic justice on the job.”
Added McDaniels: “They were like us: tired of being sick and tired. It was time for a change.”