THE LEAST WE DESERVE: Staff at Stony Brook University Hospital rallied July 22 under the banner “Heroes Don’t Get Zeroes” for $2,500 in hazard pay for those who worked during the coronavirus crisis. The unions representing those employees, including the United University Professions and the state Public Employees Federation, argued that workers at other hospitals received similar bonuses.

A coalition of unions representing Nurses, Physicians and other staff at Stony Brook University Hospital rallied July 22 to demand that the Board of Trustees at the State University of New York provide hazard pay for their members.

Members from the United University Professions, the Public Employees Federation, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union and Civil Service Employees Association Local 114 urged hospital administration to push the SUNY board members—most of whom were appointed by Governor Cuomo—to provide $2,500 bonuses for hospital staff who worked on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

'Treat Them Like Heroes'

 “Our essential workers are heroes and they deserve to be treated as such,” said UUP President Fred Kowal, who represents more than 4,000 employees at the hospital. “They put their lives on the line every day, working double shifts and extra shifts to care for thousands of COVID-19 patients that flooded downstate hospitals in the spring when New York City was the epicenter of the coronavirus.”

Stony Brook and five other hospitals on Long Island were deemed “coronavirus hotspots” by Governor Cuomo in early April because they were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. At its peak on April 10, Stony Brook treated 437 coronavirus patients.

“Some of our members contracted coronavirus and brought it home and family members have died,” said Carolyn Kube, president of UUP’s Stony Brook Health Sciences Center chapter. “People have been redeployed to evening, night and weekend shifts and it was a big sacrifice. I really think that if you value your people, you show them at a time of crisis.”

In a statement, Stony Brook management said that it was “dedicated to fostering a positive work environment where all employees are valued, supported and respected. On behalf of the community members for which we provide care, we are very grateful for the important work that our health-care providers and other essential employees have put forth in response to the pandemic.”

Cite Bonuses Elsewhere

The unions argued that other hospital systems have provided bonuses to workers, including New York-Presbyterian, which offered an additional $1,250 in pay for employees who worked at a hospital in-person for at least one week in March. Northwell Health, which operates 23 hospitals across the state, also announced bonuses in late April.

“The Northwell Health system already gave its health care workers a $2,500 lump-sum bonus and a week’s paid vacation as a thank-you for all that they have done during this pandemic,” PEF President Wayne Spence said. “These heroes should not be getting zeroes.”

Although some hospitals across the state are facing budget cuts, 1199SEIU Executive Director Steve Kramer noted that Stony Brook University Hospital was a "well-resourced institution" that "consistently benefitted" from the good will of the Long Island residents and wealthy donors.

"This institution could have done the right thing by all these workers, but instead chose to fight us every step of the way," he said.

Elected officials came out to support the cause, including Suffolk County Legislator Jason Richberg. The advocates also argued that the workers deserved a paid vacation, with many employees overworked during the stressful period at the height of the pandemic.

The state’s three public-teaching hospitals played a key role in the fight against the virus—in March, 227 medical-school students from SUNY Downstate, Stony Brook and Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse were graduated early in order to help struggling hospitals.

“Why haven’t our management stepped up to the plate and given the front-line workers here what they deserve?” asked Registered Nurse Tony Tirella, who was also a council leader for PEF. 

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