HUDSON – The Common Council voted unanimously to support the 1199 Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East, representing Columbia Memorial Health workers in their efforts to increase wages and minimize temporary worker contracts.
After some hospital staff described working conditions, low pay and understaffing at the hospital at an informal Joint Council meeting on April 11, the hospital responded, saying it would increase the salary of registered nurses $5 an hour and the salary of primary care assistants 19 cents. per hour.
The rebuttal offer was deemed unacceptable by the union.
“These developments are a bit surprising given that we have met with the union several times,” hospital spokesman William Van Slyke said Wednesday afternoon. “In fact, the CMH board has approved wage increases that have been formally communicated to the union.”
Mindy H. Berman, the union’s regional communications director, said she hopes the city’s support will spur hospital management to follow through on its calls to action.
“It could be a game-changer because it shines a light on the fact that this is an issue that affects the whole community,” she said.
The original resolution was amended by the Common Council before being adopted because it contained the following sentence: “The CMH management’s proposal to resolve the staff crisis is a slap in the face for the caregivers who provide care bedside”.
Fifth Ward council member Dominic Merante took umbrage at the term ‘slap in the face’, thinking it was too emotional and extreme for the common council to step back.
Although 5th Ward council member Vicky Daskaloudi agreed that the council could not endorse this exact language, she said: ‘Nurses are not well paid, traveling nurses take over and I really think that there are many truths here. … “We absolutely have to eliminate the ‘slap in the face’.”
“Very often in these areas there’s a lot of misinformation being shared,” Van Slyke said. “We will work harder to make sure our state officials are aware of the facts.”
Union healthcare workers said they felt overworked and underpaid two years into a global pandemic.
“I have three children and CMH’s salaries are not enough,” said Layla Prather, a primary care assistant who has worked at CMH for two and a half years. “We are overwhelmed and tired,” she said. “Rent, food, everything is going up, but why isn’t my salary going up?”
Prather works eight-hour shifts, usually from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Many of his colleagues work 12 to 16 hour shifts. Because of these working conditions, some nurses and primary care aides left for jobs in better-paying hospitals.
The starting base salary for a Primary Care Assistant at Columbia Memorial is $14.44 per hour. In contrast, the starting salary for a registered nurse in the hospital is $28.80 per hour.
The union has 660 members. That number is down from two years ago, when the union had 850 members.
Unionized workers reported that due to understaffing, nurses and primary care aides are under stress and this is impacting their ability to care for patients.
“So far, a patient’s life is not in danger, but it’s not impossible,” said Christopher Howe, a registered nurse at Columbia Memorial.
Howe worked at the hospital for four years, but takes on a second job to supplement his income. He was born on the second floor of the Columbia Memorial and grew up in Hudson.
“I like the fact that I can take care of my community,” he said.
Howe earns about $27 an hour. He said he could make more than $40 an hour if he moved to another hospital in Kingston, which would give him additional benefits amounting to $18,000 more each year. But he doesn’t do it because he is attached to the community in which he grew up.
“But I work alongside travel nurses who are not invested in this community,” he said.
For this reason, Mayor Kamal Johnson, State Senator Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, and Congresswoman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, co-signed a letter asking hospital management to meet with union workers to offer higher wages and better work. location conditions.
“When you’re overworked and underpaid, it has an impact,” Johnson said. “The Town of Hudson’s support lets unionized workers know we have their back.”
Johnson said the resolution will help wake up hospital management to the need to create better working conditions.
The union plans to have a follow-up meeting with hospital human resources staff on Thursday.