2005-08-25 / Community

Saint John’s Hospital Residents Picket For Medical Benefits

SJEH’s residents spend their lunch hour picketing for a fair contract that includes full medical benefits.  Photos by Miriam RosenbergSJEH’s residents spend their lunch hour picketing for a fair contract that includes full medical benefits. Photos by Miriam Rosenberg By Miriam Rosenberg

Contributing Editor

St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s residents spent their lunch hour on an informational picket line last Friday to bring attention to their fight to get the hospital to include paid medical benefits in their contract.

According to CIR SEIU union representative Pat Fry (who is heading up the negotiations), the hospital has agreed to a modest increase in salary but the sticking point is medical benefits.

“Health care costs are up all over the country and health care for the residents are up too,” explained Fry, who said that the doctors have been working without a contract for the past 11 months. “The hospital says it won’t pay the increase and the residents have to pay for it.”

While the starting salary for residents is $42,000 a year they work 80 hours a week – six days a week.

“They’re the people who mainly provide the health care here,” continue Fry. “They do enormous amounts of work here all the time. Without them there would be no hospital.” Dr. Bogdan Vatra, a third year medical resident, talked about what the residents want.

“We want two things – health care and due process which was in the former contract,” he said.

While Vatra said that no one has ever been fired from the hospital, retaining due process is still a concern. Fry said that the removal of due process – being unable to suspend or fire someone without a hearing – is a new issue just recently put on the table by management.

On Tuesday morning, the hospital released a statement by its CEO, Luis Hernandez, concerning the contract negotiations.

“St. John’s Episcopal Hospital believes that we are very close to resolution on most issues under negotiation, including the language on the disciplinary process. We have made them an offer on health insurance premiums for each year of the contract. CIR has rejected our offer, nevertheless, we continue to negotiate with them to come to a reasonable resolution,” said Hernandez. While Fry agrees that there has been work with the SJEH’s attorney on language concerning due process, she said there is still no agreement on the issue and said early Tuesday “there has been no new offer [concerning health benefit premiums] from the hospital since negotiations began in September 2004. I have no idea what the hospital is referring to in this regard.”

The parties met again Tuesday afternoon when, according to Fry, the hospital put a new proposal on the table.

“The hospital’s offer on Tuesday was not a serious proposal,” said Fry. “The hospital simply moved money around taking money for salary increases to pay for health benefits. The residents deserve to have a modest raise to keep up with the cost of living and have their health benefits covered.”

Showing solidarity with the union during the picket was Councilman James Sanders, Jr.

“It is bizarre to be at a place where medical professionals have to fight for medical benefits,” said Sanders. “If medical professionals are in danger [of losing medical benefits], what will happen to the rest of us? The community must come out and call for a fair contract.”

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