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VNSNY nurses unanimously ratify contract

New York Teacher

Federation of Nurses/UFT members on Jan. 29 unanimously ratified a two-year contract with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York that raises salaries, protects members’ pensions and existing health care benefits, and improves safety provisions. The agreement took effect on Feb. 1.

“We’re delighted to have such a solid vote,” said an elated Anne Goldman, the lead negotiator and the UFT vice president for non-DOE members. “Nobody gets unanimous.”

As they finished their workdays, a steady stream of nurses came to Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters in Manhattan to hear details of the settlement before casting ballots.

Among the monetary achievements were a pair of 2.75% pay increases, one on April 1, 2020, and the second on April 1, 2021. No-premium health care was one of the “big-ticket items” members wanted to protect, based on surveys collected by the bargaining team, said Chapter Leader Raquel Webb-Geddes, and “we were able to achieve that.” All current and future nurses, she said, will remain in the UFT benefit fund, instead of being required to join the employer’s health plan, as VNS management had wanted.

In addition, the roughly 680 current VNS nurses will remain in the defined-benefit pension plan, which will be unchanged. That portion of the agreement was a hit, especially with longtime members.

Hayley Gonzales, a nurse in the Bronx for 29 years, threw her hands in the air and cheered.

“Nobody has pensions anymore,” said a relieved Myrna Agosto, a psychiatric nurse for 31 years.

The agreement ensures a review of processes to create appropriate caseload assignments. It also guarantees the employer will provide personal protective equipment in nurses’ supply bags and that the homes of patients with infectious diseases will have medical equipment for those patients’ exclusive use before they are treated by a VNS nurse.

VNS Chapter Secretary Ruth Caballero, a first-time negotiator, called the process “eye-opening.” “I had no idea of the detail and the intense negotiation that goes on every two years,” said Caballero, a nurse for 18 years.

The process, she said, taught her about “the strength of our union.” The negotiating team, she said, presented “a united front” and showed management that the union’s proposals would benefit not only staff but the company.

“You’re not going to retain nurses if you don’t have a good contract,” said Caballero. “And how will we safely provide care to patients if we don’t have good nurses? And they saw that.”

Caballero’s goal now is to get more nurses involved in the union. 

Jon Marquez, her colleague in Manhattan, won’t need much convincing. Marquez, a nurse since 2011, worked at a nonunion hospital before joining VNS a year and a half ago. He said he appreciates being in a union where people work together and “use their collective voice to speak up on common issues.” 

Related Topics: Labor issues, News Stories