Saturday, May 21, 2011

97% voted for the Bridge Agreement

On Thursday Community General employees ratified the Bridge Agreement, as negotiated by 1199SEIU and hospital management.

The Bridge Agreement was supported by 97% of the voters.

Ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement is a notable accomplishment that helps set the stage for Community's employees making the transition to Upstate University Hospital at Community General.

Collective bargaining began on February 11 and continued through the last week of April. There were 12 bargaining sessions, in all. Community's labor agreement expired April 30, and a tentative agreement was reached on May 13.

My sincere thanks to all members of the labor bargaining team who helped reach the agreement, and congratulations to Community's management team for its concerted efforts over the many weeks of discussion.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Widespread support

This week we saw an example of union dues at work. 1199SEIU sent over-sized postcards to thousands of Central New York residents, objecting to the "ill-conceived takeover of Community General" by SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Residents are asked to call State Senator John DeFrancisco and Assembly Member Bill Magnarelli. Presumably, they are expected to affirm SEIU's position that Community General Hospital's combination with Upstate is "rushed" and "badly-flawed."

Actually, the combination has been very carefully planned. Upstate has gone to great lengths to assure that vital patient services remain at Community General's campus, and it is taking steps to broaden and deepen patient care here.

Upstate intends to employ most of Community's workforce, and it has made special efforts to transition Community General's employees. The State Legislature even passed a special law allowing Community's employees the option of remaining in Community's pension plan after they join Upstate.

Some people who got the post card told me they called the legislators' offices but with a message the opposite of what SEIU intended. "I support the Upstate plan," one of them told me this week in the cafeteria, "and that's what I told them."

SEIU's post cards do not state the real reason for its opposition. The real reason is that most Community General employees would become public employees. That means they would join the public unions, and SEIU would lose the membership.

SEIU stands pretty much alone in its opposition. The Upstate-Community plan has widespread support.

Elected officials have already endorsed the plan in letters to the Department of Health:

State Senator John DeFrancisco: "I write you in full support of Community General Hospital’s application. . . . (as) essential for continued available services, and assuring uninterrupted employment . . . and providing high levels of care to patients.” (February 22, 2011)

State Senator Dave Valesky: “I believe the merger of the two entities is critical for the continuation of quality health care in Central New York and will benefit the entire region.” (March 21, 2011)

Assembly Member Bill Magnarelli
It is my belief that Upstate Medical University’s acquisition of Community General Hospital is the most reasonable approach . . .and is in the best interest of the community-at-large.” (May 5, 2011)

A number of community health planning organizations have also endorsed the Community-Upstate plan. They are:

▪ Hospital Executive Council
▪ Crouse Hospital/ University Hospital Affiliation Council
▪ Community Health Information Planning Service,and
▪ Central New York Health Systems Agency.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why 1199SEIU is worried

A recent letter writer to the Post-Standard suggested that Community General’s plans with Upstate University Hospital are somehow part of an “attack” on workers’ rights.

The writer said: “At a time when the rights of workers are under attack, it is important for people concerned with social justice to speak out when management and policy makers display insensitivity to process for the resolution of labor concerns. Such appears to be the case in the plans for the acquisition of Community General Hospital by Upstate Medical University.”

But the letter writer misunderstood what is happening at Community General. When Community becomes part of Upstate University Hospital, employees will continue to be represented by unions.

This is not a question of union vs. non-union. It is simply an issue of how Upstate structures its operations in a way that maximizes community benefit, fosters its mission, and preserves the most jobs for Community employees.

This week 1199SEIU held a rally in downtown Syracuse at which critical comments were made about Upstate for its approach in working to preserve the employment of Community workers. I would think that’s exactly what a union should be working for. But 1199SEIU cannot guarantee anyone's future without a job.

It is Upstate that offers Community workers continued jobs at the Community campus as part of the larger health care system.

To understand what’s behind 1199SEIU’s concerns, look at what’s happening.

In 2009 A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital (with over 200 employees) closed in nearby Fulton, NY. 1199 had a labor contract with Lee Memorial. The former hospital is now an urgent care center operated by Oswego Hospital.

This year Community General (with 1,100 employees) will become part of SUNY Upstate Medical University. 1199 represents about 800 of Community’s workers.

In our region at least two other hospitals with 1199 labor contracts also contemplating mergers with larger hospitals.

No wonder 1199SEIU is worried.

When I was asked about the rally and some of the statements made by 1199SEIU, I told reporter Jim Mulder: “As a business, 1199 is understandably worried about maintaining its client base.”

Jim's news report on the rally was published yesterday.