Chanting, “What do we want? Justice!” health care workers employed at the nursing home within the old Victory Memorial Hospital took to the street in front of the facility to send a message to the company that reached a deal to purchase it earlier this year – they want their union contract honored.
Approximately 150 people – the vast majority of them employees at the long-term care facility – participated in the rally, which was organized by 1199 SEIU, and held in front of the building, 92nd Street and Seventh Avenue.
Elsie Otero, a vice president of 1199, contended that the concern of the employees was that the new operator of the facility – who is yet to be named -- might put, “Profits above patient care. It should be patient care above profits.
“The workers already have a contract,” Otero stressed. “We want them to maintain the wages and benefits that are in the contract. We don’t want anyone to take over the home who’s not going to honor the contract. We have been getting signals that they may not honor the contract. If they don’t they will have a fight on their hands.”
Another issue is staffing levels, said Otero. “If they go too low, the workers are not going to be able to provide the kind of care they want to provide,” she warned.
The Abe Leser Group agreed to purchase the embattled hospital – which had been ordered closed in 2006 by the state’s Berger Commission – for $44.9 million earlier this year, but has still not decided upon an operator for the 150-bed nursing home located within the building. They must name an operator by September 9th.
There are two operators in the running – Victory, which would run it as a not-for-profit facility, and Chaim Sieger, a nursing home manager who would turn it into a for-profit enterprise, but who has “a history of concern,” said Carlos Trinidad, the 1199 contract administrator for Victory.
“Mr. Sieger wants to reduce cost,” Trinidad added. “The only cost in this is the workers. The only way he’s going to make more money is on the residents and us. We’re not asking for more. We’re asking for what we have.”
The workers have the support of local elected officials.
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who sent a representative to the rally, said in a subsequent interview, “I support the 1199 contract at Victory. It was negotiated in good faith and any attempt to vacate or retract it I would oppose. I am reaching out to Abe Leser and I am going to make my position known to him, so maybe I can influence his choice.”
Gentile said it was his understanding that Victory would honor the 1199 contract, but that Sieger – should he be tapped to operate the nursing home – would “seek to vacate” it.”
State Senator Marty Golden stopped by during the rally to assure the nursing home employees that he was negotiating with the new owners of the nursing home to make sure the workers and patients are protected.
“I have expressed to them how important it is that it remain not-for-profit,” Golden told the assembled group. “We are, I believe, very close in that negotiation. I believe, at this point, that the owner will run it as a not-for-profit and will maintain the employment we have here, that, as a whole, the majority of people will continue here.
“I believe in good health care and I believe you have provided good health care and I will continue to fight for you because I believe you’ve done the right thing,” Golden added.
The old emergency room at Victory was recreated as a 24-hour urgent care center operated by SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which has leased the space, and which is also operating a diagnostic and treatment center at the site.
Leser was out of town and could not be reached by press time.