ACTION ALERT: Cayuga Medical Center Nurses Need Your Help!!

November 20, 2015

ACTION ALERT: Cayuga Medical Center Nurses Need Your Help!!

About six months ago, a number of Registered Nurses (RNs) from Cayuga Medical Center (CMC), came to visit with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center about their desire to form a union of RNs at the main hospital in Tompkins County. After going through a number of options, including the possibility of forming an independent union, the RNs decided to work with the Service Employees International Union 1199, the largest health care workers union in the country. The following is an account by the unionizing RN’s at CMC:

The Registered Nurses at Cayuga Medical Center (CMC) are organizing to form a union at CMC. This is a grassroots campaign which was started and is being led by nurses. We currently have representation from every inpatient and outpatient unit in the entire organization. Why do nurses want to unionize at Cayuga Medical Center? Multiple generations of nurses have shared the same concerns about persistent patterns: under staffing, threats to patient safety, low wages, capricious schedules, arbitrary management decisions, and no meaningful voice in making key decisions. (See more details here.)

Please show your support for the nurses in your community as we work to improve the safety and quality of care we deliver to you. We encourage you to write Letters to the Editor and Op-Ed articles to local publications, and to join the hundreds of community members who have signed our petition (click on Take Action below or here to sign the petition), asking that the Cayuga Medical Center engage in a moral and ethical code of conduct as we approach and carry out our election. Please contact us to find out how else you can support our campaign.

USW International V.P. Tom Conway Speaks at Single Payer Events in Chicago

November 12, 2015

At a national meeting of single payer activists in Chicago on October 30th, United Steelworkers (USW) International Vice President Tom Conway highlighted the problems confronting unions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Conway termed the current healthcare system in the U.S. “dysfunctional” and said, “This country can’t sustain this kind of … system much longer.”
Saying “the ACA for us has not been helpful at all,” Conway drew attention to two ongoing lockouts of USW members which he said are “all about healthcare.”  In Texas 450 USW members have been locked out for more than a year at Sherwin Alumina in Gregory.  The company no longer wants to pay for a Medicare supplement plan for retirees and wants the new hires to accept a consumer-driven health plan.  
At Allegheny Technologies Inc. 2,300 steelworkers in six states have been locked out for several months.  ATI wants 300% increases in health care premiums and no retiree coverage.  “It’s just a brutal place out there in the health care world,” he said.  Earlier on the same day, Conway spoke at a boisterous rally of over 300 people outside the headquarters of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois.  He termed the more than 20 cents of each premium dollar that private insurance companies pocket for profit and other non-medical care items “blood money.”
The rally was energized by the more than 100 medical students in Chicago to participate in the annual meeting of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).
Distributed by: 
All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551

Cayuga Medical Center Nurses Need Union Representation

November 11, 2015

A Union at CMC?

by Kerrie Gordon

For the past six months there has been an effort to organize a nurses union at CMC. This will be the third attempt since Tompkins County Hospital became Cayuga Medical Center; first in 1983, then again in 1998. Just before the vote in 1983, CMC’s administration offered an across-the-board $9.75/hour raise. The vote was called off, and what seemed to be a win was effectively negated when the hospital raised employees’ contributions to their health plans later that year.

Now it is 2015, and a newer generation of nurses are experiencing some of the same issues as the nurses before them: understaffing, threats to patient safety, lower/inconsistent wages, arbitrary management decisions, and a lack of representation in making key decisions.

There are nurses unable to get meal breaks, unable to access vacation time, compelled to work past scheduled hours, and working with nurse-patient ratios that feel dangerous, stressful, and unsafe – all because there is not enough coverage. CMC is currently under investigation by the New York Department of Labor for their no-break culture.

At CMC, nurses are not allowed to discuss their compensation openly, but simply told that their wages are competitive. Pay-rates are determined at CMC’s discretion, despite experience or certification. Nurses at CMC are at-will employees, and can be let go at any time by the hospital, regardless of the years of service that employee provided. As one nurse was told by her manager: “Everyone is replaceable”.

Here is a sampling of stories: there are nurses who have to work with chemical wipes that not only cause severe skin reactions and trigger respiratory symptoms, but have delaminated pieces of hospital equipment. Employees complained, the wipes were pulled, only to be quietly re-introduced one year later. There is a nurse manager who – kicked out of one department due to coworker complaints – was unilaterally hired by HR as a director of another unit, bypassing the objections of participants of the ‘democratic’ interview process. Then there was the (male) interim director, who the hospital stood by, despite verbal complaints and one formal filing by nurses exposed to a disturbing video during a staff meeting. The filing nurse was temporarily suspended. The case is now in process with the National Labor Relations Board.

Six months ago, having exhausted the available channels of change at the hospital, a few nurses from the Emergency Department approached the Tompkins’ County Workers’ Center for guidance. They were put in touch with SEIU 1199, which had successfully helped nurses organize at Krause Hospital in Syracuse, and offered the potential to represent other worker groups within the hospital.

The hospital has not been friendly to these efforts. Administrators claimed that a couple of agitators were stirring things up, rather than agnowledge that there were valid systemic issues. Hospital employees were encouraged to tear down any union-oriented materials in legally protected spaces. Hospital physicians were advised by hospital administration not to encourage or support their nursing colleagues. There is a pronounced presence by administrators in work spaces. A high-level administrator attempted to evict two nurses who were tabling in the hospital cafeteria. Emails were sent out that emphasize that union members have to pay dues, and that ‘third parties’ are not welcome – while the hospital hires higher-paid traveling nurses from ‘scab’-supplying outfits. This has created a chilling effect on employees – some are even afraid of being seen with active organizers. It is also worth mentioning that since the organizing has begun, there has been no attempt on the hospital’s part to speak with any of the main union organizers to discuss their concerns.

Requests for change have not been enough. The nurses at CMC are striving to have more leverage than the current system provides, which is basically some therapeutic listening or filing a report. They are looking for the leverage to advocate for the conditions that will enable them to provide better and safer working conditions for themselves and their patients, to collectively bargain as a group of professionals – and not just for money. They are looking for the support of a union to help negotiate changes that will be neither neat nor easy. Once changes are agreed upon, they are looking to have the back-up in place to enforce those changes and hold the hospital accountable to its commitments. Currently, CMC employees only have themselves as advocates, and the hope that those who do make the decisions will chose to do right by them, rather than what they can get away with. The nurses’ goal is to hold an election by year’s end.

So, if you can, let the CMC nurse/employee in your life know that you support them in their effort to shape their work-life so that they can take better care of themselves – and our community!


Pdf of PowerPoint Presentation “Single Payer, Health Care for EVERYONE!”

November 5, 2015

Please feel free to use this presentation to help educate people about the US health care system concluding with the New York Health Act.

Oneonta Presentation

Please credit Barbara Harrison

If you have any questions, please get in touch with me at 607 279 6429/

Presentation Outline

  • Different kinds of single payer systems
  • Federal level single payer bills
  • New York Health Act (A5260) (S3525)
  • Resources – federal and New York State
  • Next Steps