Negotiations continue, nurses set to strike

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Registered nurses at Flushing Hospital plan to strike soon following disputes between hospital management and fruitless pickets.

The hospital’s 420 nurses will walk off the job on the morning of February 7, protesting what they call “unfair contract negotiations.”

“This situation has left us with our backs to a wall,” said Theresa McGorty, a registered nurse and co-chair of the bargaining unit. “We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We just need to be able to recruit and retain professional registered nurses by keeping us in line with other facilities.”

According to Mark Genovese, spokesperson for New York State Nurses Association — which represents Flushing’s nurses — they are currently negotiating a new contract with hospital management to improve working conditions, including a “fair salary increase.”

The nurses’ contract expired on December 31. Although health benefits continue 90 days after expiration, Genovese said pension plans ended for good on January 1.

An interim agreement signed by hospital administration would guarantee the continuation of both contracts for six months while the parties continue to negotiate, but Genovese said the hospital would not grant the extension.

“Having no benefits and no pension after 35 years of service is like a slap in the face,” McGorty said.

A federally-required 10-day notice of intent to strike was filed on January 24 with the National Labor Relations Board, hospital management and local police, union representatives said.

An interim agreement had not been signed yet as of January 25.

“The clock is ticking on those 90 days, and the pension has already been discontinued,” said Genovese. “It’s just a cheap tactic intended to intimidate the nurses. It’s clear that management is not actively trying to negotiate — they’re just trying to enforce everything on us.”

Among many things, Genovese said part of what incensed the union was hospital management’s plans to have registered nurses pay more for their health insurance, which he said would total about an additional $4,800 a year.

He also said they are demanding givebacks in pension plans, essentially dropping the nurses to a lower level of health care in which “the benefits would be less and the costs would be more.” Genovese said the nurses would lose out on about $150,000 in lost retirement income over a lifetime.

Flushing Hospital declined to comment on any allegations regarding contracts, but Michael Hinck, a spokesperson for Flushing Hospital’s parent company MediSys, said management is working closely with the union to reach a reasonable deal.

Flushing Hospital Medical Center will resume its negotiations with NYSNA next week. Flushing Hospital seeks to reach a fair agreement with its staff,  who are members of [the union],” Hinck said.

More than 200 of the hospital’s registered nurses hit the picket line outside the Parsons Boulevard facility on January 5. Still, after seeing no progress, the union said they are left with no choice but to strike.

“We’re leaving room for management to come back to the table and talk to us,” Genovese said. “The goal is not to have a strike. The goal is to get a fair contract for the nurses. But, we’ll strike if necessary.”