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Nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital have accused management of violating contract terms just weeks after the two sides reached the agreement by nearly doubling agreed-upon health care premiums for retirees.
The New York State Nurses Association, which represents the employees, said Jan. 26 that when the contract deal was reached late last month, the hospital and the union agreed that the cost for monthly retiree health care premiums would be $880.68. That rate was confirmed both before and after nurses ratified the pact Jan. 7, the union said.
But the union said that on Jan. 20, Presbyterian’s management sent an annual health care enrollment form stating that the cost of some retirees’ monthly premiums would be $1,535.39. Additionally, the union alleged that the hospital changed the reimbursement process from a monthly to an annual basis, and excluded dental coverage from the retired nurses’ healthcare benefits.
The changes affect a subgroup of retirees — those over 60 years old but under 65 and thus ineligible for Medicare. The deal would have allowed retirees in this category who have worked at the hospital for 20 years or longer to receive premium-free health care, according to the union.
‘We’ve been very loyal'
Nurses held sit-ins Thursday and Friday at the hospital demanding that the hospital administration honor the contract. Several nurses said they stayed at the facility overnight, sleeping on the lobby floor.
Soyoung Yoon, who worked as a nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia for 38 years, said she relies on her health care coverage because she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis six months after retiring in the summer of 2020.
“We work so hard and we don’t even realize that we’ve injured our bodies working,” she said during a Friday press event outside of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. “I am desperate to have insurance. This is not the right way to treat the nurses … we’ve been very loyal to the hospital.”
Noemi DeJesus Aponte, president of NYSNA’s bargaining unit for NewYork-Presbyterian nurses, alleged that the hospital’s management “just plainly lied.”
“They wanted a contract, they got a contract, and now they’re reneging on the contract. So their integrity is in question here,” she said.
In a statement, NewYork-Presbyterian said that “We care deeply about all of our team members, both active and retired employees, and we believe in taking care of them. We are adhering to all provisions of our recent contract agreement with NYSNA at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.”
The hospital explained that within the contract, the hospital and the union agreed to a supplement of up to $11,000 per year for each of the retirees.
"Importantly, the supplement gives these retirees significant resources to reduce — and, in some cases, eliminate entirely — what they pay for health care premiums; it also gives them greatly expanded choice," the hospital system’s statement continued.
But the union accused the hospital system of unilaterally changing the reimbursement process, arguing that it could hurt the retirees financially. The nurses called for the matter to be resolved quickly, noting that the health care enrollment period for the nurses is set to close at the end of January.
“This is a financial hardship for us, we’re on a fixed income,” Amy Rosato, a retiree who worked as a NewYork-Presbyterian nurse for 37 years, said during the press conference. “Health care is a human right; that’s a belief I’ve held my entire career, yet now I find myself in four days without.”
Aretha Morgan, a NYSNA board member and who has worked as a nurse at NY-P for 30 years, said the hospital has “turned their back” on the nurses. “These nurses have been here for 20, 30, 40 years or more,” she said during the second day of the union’s demonstration. “Some of them injured themselves on the job. You mean to tell me this rich hospital can’t help them out?”
State Senator Robert Jackson called the hospital system’s alleged actions “totally unacceptable under any labor relations law. It’s a damn shame.”
DeJesus Aponte, the bargaining unit president, said that about 100 nurses were affected by the hiked premiums, although many other senior nurses were expected to retire soon and would also be impacted if the hospital’s management did not reverse course.
“They have to own up to the agreement. And we’ll be here until it happens,” she said.
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