Union Wins New Workers at NYC Health+Hospitals

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

A group of about 50 unrepresented public hospital workers recently voted to become DC 37 members.

DC 37 and the Organization of Staff Analysis competed to represent the workers. The city’s Office of Collective Bargaining tabulated the vote on Nov. 9.

The workers — whose title is patient representative — voted to join DC 37. Their mission at NYC Health+Hospitals is to advocate for patient rights.

“I never had any experience with unions before,” said Patient Representative Mira Temer, who works at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn. “It is nice to know that someone will be there if there is a problem.”

But Temer said the rich benefits package of DC 37 is the main reason she voted for DC 37.

DC 37 Organizer Shawn Gray, second from left, with patient representatives at Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn.

She complained her household budget was financially pinched by an expensive prescription drug rider for her health-care plan. DC 37’s drug plan has a three-tier co-pay structure without a premium.

“The rider is a big burden, especially if you’re the primary supporter of the family and have children,” Temer said, noting that her husband doesn’t have access to a health-care plan. The couple has two children.

Temer said she was also attracted to DC 37 because of its education benefits. She said she looked forward to exploring the course offerings of the DC 37 Education Dept.

Saroje Portiou, a single mother living in public housing, said her membership in DC 37 will be a great financial relief. As a worker without union representation at Kings County, Portiou said she had to pay more than $200 a month for her prescription drug plan.

Organizer Shawn Gray was the union’s link to the workers at Kings County Hospital.

Gray met with members at their homes and at the hospital. He said management did not impede efforts in the outreach.

One of the workers he spoke with was Lennard Gordon, a patient representative for 23 years.

Gordon said during those years, management would threaten workers and tell them not to join a union.

“Prior to this, you had to say, ‘Yes sir, yes sir’,” said Gordon, who said he generally wouldn’t speak out about any injustices because of his non-union status.

“Now you have a voice,” said Gordon, who is considering becoming a shop steward.

Gordon said one of the reasons he voted to join DC 37 was that he was impressed by Gray’s persistence and sincerity. For example, after Gray tried to meet with Gordon several times, he decided to show up at his home.

“He came and rang the bell,” Gordon said. “It was a pleasant surprise. I said if this guy is approaching me with this zeal that’s the kind of representation I want.”

Organizers arrived at meetings armed with information about the value of unions and the structure and benefits of joining DC 37. They informed the workers about the union’s benefits and services, including pensions, SAT classes available for their children, contract negotiations, health-insurance coverage and workplace protections.

Each day, the organizers held debriefings at union headquarters to evaluate their progress and challenges, as well as ways to improve the outreach. The organizing drive used social media tools — an online chat app — and sent biweekly mailings to keep in touch with the workers.

DC 37 Organizing Director Barbara Terrelonge said the union’s Volunteer Member Organizers provided staffers with a lot of help, boosting the union’s presence at public hospitals around the city.

“Organizing involves a lot of planning and is often very intensive,” Terrelonge said. “There is a craft to organizing. But in the end, it really comes down talking to people and having one-to-one conversations.”

The DC 37 Blog is an official online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 121,000 public employees who work in New York City and the surrounding areas. 

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