plan to picket
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO Frustrated nurses are accusing Sullivan County of stonewalling in negotiations for a new labor contract.
New York State Nurse’s Association (NYSNA) Spokesman Mark Genovese said Monday the 62 registered nurses employed in various county posts will spend Thursday’s lunch hour on the picket line.
The employees are legally prohibited from striking, he said, but they’ll spend noon to 1:30 p.m. protesting the lack of progress in negotiations that began in January.
“They’re coming to the table not very well prepared,” Genovese said of the county. “We go into a negotiation intending to stay at the table until it’s done, they may only be scheduled for half a day with us.”
The result has been nine sessions the most recent of which was held Oct. 22 without a new contract.
“We question their competence or their intentions,” Genovese said.
Legislature Chairman Jonathan F. Rouis took issue with the inference.
“The county Legislature has been and will remain committed to good faith negotiations with union representatives to provide the best contract for not only our employees, but our taxpayers, as well,” he said. “The county manager, majority and minority leaders and I recently met with NYSNA leadership, and as NYSNA representatives are aware, there is an issue of retiree health benefits that the county offers, but their own NYSNA coverage does not.
“This issue must be resolved before negotiations can be completed.”
The RNs are protesting what they termed a staffing cut of 12 in the 2008 budget, which Genovese said has stretched thin the 62 remaining registered nurses scattered throughout Sullivan County’s offices of public health services, community services, the adult care center and the jail in Monticello.
According to Sullivan County Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton, there were never any actual nurses cut. The 12 positions were already unfilled, the county merely opted not to fund them in 2008 and thus not fill them.
“We were hoping that they would fill them to lessen the workload,” Genovese responded.
That workload includes duties Genovese said are beyond the scope of nursing duties, taking the nurses away from patient care.
The nurses are also looking for longevity pay to get parity with other county employees and looking to retain current healthcare benefits rather than switching to a new health insurance program.
“The issue of retiree health benefits is crucial to these negotiations,” said County Manager David Fanslau.
The county offers retiree health benefits to employees, he explained, but the insurance which is compulsory for all NYSNA members does not.
“The county insurance provider, NYSHIP, cannot be expected to bear the financial burden of NYSNA members only signing up for NYSHIP as they retire and not paying into the system like all other county employees,” Fanslau continued.
“My office remains committed to fair, good faith negotiations with all of our unions, as is demonstrated by our willingness to meet regularly with representatives from each of the unions, and I remain confident we can agree on fair and equitable contracts for our employees, and to also be fair to our property taxpayers.”
Picket lines will form at the government center in Monticello and the county public health building in Liberty at noon on Thursday. The protest will last until 1:30 p.m., with nurses moving on and off the line as their breaks begin and end.
There will be no loss in productivity, Genovese promised. This is merely to express they’ve “had enough.”
The nurses have been working without a contract since Dec. 31, 2007.