NEW YORK—In the bright rays of the mid-day sun, workers at Brookdale Hospital gathered yesterday to form a 2-hour-long picket line before getting back to work. What started as a trickle of people in purple union T-shirts just before noon turned into a stream of dozens circling in front of the hospital entrance an hour later.
The picket line was organized by the United Health Care Workers East, or the SEIU 1199, to protest an alleged breach of contract by the hospital management, which resulted in loss of health care benefits.
According to Coraminita Mahr, vice president of the SEIU 1199 health-care workers’ union, Brookdale Hospital failed to make payments into the workers’ benefit fund as agreed in the collective bargaining agreement with the union.
The hospital currently owes $27 million to the union’s National Benefit Fund. As a result, the fund announced last month that it will not be able to support some 3,400 workers, according to the union.
“They have a contractual obligation to provide health care benefits … and they unilaterally pulled out,” said Mahr, adding that the hospital also unilaterally decided to change the insurer to Blue Cross Blue Shield, though it provides lesser benefits to the workers than the union’s plan.
“We demand that they [Brookdale Hospital] work with the union to ensure that whatever money from the state we are able to secure goes directly to reinstate the benefits,” Mahr said, adding that there is also a need for independent oversight to ensure transparency and good management.
Staff representing elected officials also came to show support for the workers.
“It is ridiculous, unfair, horrible, and horrendous what is happening to workers,” said Joy Simmons, chief of staff for Councilor Charles Barron, who came to pitch in for the cause. “They find money for what they want,” she added. “We need to bail out our workers.”
Kirsten John Foy, director of community affairs for New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, also came to the picket line. “The public advocate is in support of the workers. He believes it is time for the failed leadership of Brookdale to step aside and for the state to intervene,” Foy said.
The picket line is part of an ongoing campaign by the SEIU 1199 to draw attention to the alleged breach of contract by the hospital management and to call for reinstating the union workers’ health care benefits. Many state and city elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Rep. Edolphus Towns, state Sen. Eric Adams, and state Assembly members Inez Barron and Nick Perry, attended a June 10 rally in support of the union’s efforts.
Despite several attempts, Brookdale Hospital representatives could not be reached for comment prior to press deadline.