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Health care coup for Staten Island nurses

New York Teacher

Staten Island University Hospital South nurses represented by the Federation of Nurses/UFT on March 28 overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract effective April 1, 2022, that provides three annual raises of 3% each, a $1,000 ratification bonus and, most significantly, moves nurses hired over the last five years into the union’s health care plan.

UFT Vice President Anne Goldman, the head of the Federation of Nurses/UFT, said the contract’s biggest achievement was moving nurses hired beginning April 1, 2017, out of the Northwell Health Network and into the UFT Health Care Chapter Benefit Fund.

“It was extraordinary that we were able to put members who were in the Northwell plan into the UFT plan,” she said. “Our plan is absolutely more comprehensive and welcoming.”

The Northwell Health Network has no premiums for individual coverage, but those in Northwell’s family plan have in some cases had to pay nearly $6,000 in premiums. The nurses moving into the UFT plan will pay no premiums, plus the employer will contribute more than $25,000 to the UFT fund on each member’s behalf this year. That amount is projected to increase to nearly $29,000 by April 1, 2024.

Meg Walsh, a critical care nurse who has worked at Staten Island University Hospital South for two years, said the change was a huge deal.

“I’m relatively young and I’m relatively healthy, but I recently had to use the plan and I got a bill for $1,000 that I couldn’t pay,” said Walsh, who, like many of her co-workers, lives in New Jersey.

To avoid costly out-of-pocket expenses, Walsh said, the nurses would have to travel to Staten Island for every doctor’s appointment. “It gets old fast,” she said. “I’m a health care worker. I take care of people, and here I was not being taken care of.”

Nurses hired after March 31, 2022, will be covered under the Northwell plan.

The contract also provides benefit improvements for all chapter members, including the $1,000 ratification bonus, which was offered by management in recognition of their pandemic service and will be paid by May 11.

The three pay raises, with compounding, will boost nurses’ base salaries by 9.27%. The first raise took effect on April 1, and the others will take effect on April 1, 2023, and April 1, 2024.

The agreement also includes improvements to experience, education and certification differentials, and certified registered nurse anesthetists are now eligible for tuition reimbursement of up to $5,000 for pursuing doctoral degrees.

Per-diem rates for registered nurses increased by $4 an hour as of April 1, with additional $2 hourly increases to take effect on April 1, 2023, and April 1, 2024.

Goldman said the overwhelming support reflected the union’s success in achieving gains that were the priority for the nurses at the hospital.

“We spent a lot of hours negotiating this,” said Bevin Sullivan, the chapter chair, including some sessions that lasted 18-20 hours. “But it was worth it. We touched every nurse in the facility at every level of experience.”