Two unions. One heart.

NYSNA and 1199SEIU members marched side by side at the June 15 info. picket.

The ongoing campaign for safe staffing at Vassar Brothers Medical Center has built unprecedented unity between NYSNA RNs and 1199SEIU UHWE caregivers, and mobilized union, community, and political supporters into an unstoppable force for quality patient care. At a June 15 informational picket and rally, hundreds marched outside the hospital to demand safe staffing and spread the message that quality healthcare depends on healthy staff.

Paul Ellis-Graham, President of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation, told VBMC workers, “We are with you. All of the members of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation — from carpenters to plumbers to teachers to clerical staff — we’re all with you to protect the safety and lives of your patients.”

Later in the day, hospital workers and supporters walked in and read aloud a letter from four Dutchess County legislators to VBMC’s CEO Ann McMackin. “There should be nothing more important to the hospital and administration than providing the highest standards of quality care,” read the letter. “The hospital must be appropriately staffed to meet that goal. Anything less than that is unacceptable to the patients, the workers, and the community.”

Broken promises

Two of the signers, Hannah Black and Micki Strawinki, joined workers on the picket line earlier that day, along with New York Senator Terry Gipson (D-41).

Assemblyman Frank Skartados (D-104) had also recently written to Ms. McMackin, asking that she “fulfill the staffing promises VBMC made to the nurses in the contract signed last December.”

While management has added a few RN positions, VBMC nurses are still working far below the standards management itself indicated as adequate and which were codified into the NYSNA contract. Cyndi Sexton, RN and VMBC NYSNA Executive Committee Member, reported that instead of hiring new staff to meet the higher patient census, “Nurses are being mandated to work overtime — made to stay 16, 17 hours and it’s not safe.” To add insult to injury, the hospital implemented a “dependability policy” that penalizes exhausted employees for getting sick.

Ms. Sexton added, “If there’s a silver lining, it’s the extraordinary solidarity we’ve built between the NYSNA nurses and 1199SEIU UHWE healthcare workers.”

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