Former North General Hospital clinic workers regain jobs

by Olga Deshchenko, DOTmed News Reporter | November 16, 2010
The 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the Institute for Family Health, a federally qualified clinic, reached a contract agreement for about 60 positions at IFH, the organizations announced Tuesday.

The agreement comes as a relief to the union members who lost their jobs after Harlem's North General Hospital declared bankruptcy and closed its doors in July. As part of an agreement with the hospital's former leadership, IFH took on the operations of the former NGH clinics.

The contract follows a controversial battle between the union and IFH.

Upon the hospital's closing, IFH said it would employ all of the former NGH clinic workers but did not live up to the commitment, according to the union.

In October, the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against IFH, alleging the clinic's operator was using union busting practices. The charges included "illegally withdrawing recognition of 1199 SEIU as the representative of clinic employees, illegally refusing to hire former NGH clinic workers to work at IFH, and unlawfully reducing the negotiated salaries and benefits of clinic employees," according to the union's press release.

As a part of the new agreement, 1199 SEIU will withdraw the NLRB complaint and IFH will recognize the union as the representative body of all the clinic's service, maintenance, technical, clerical and nursing positions at IFH, many of which will be filled with former NGH clinic employees. The former workers will receive the same pay and benefits as they did under NGH.

"We are very pleased to have reached a contract agreement with IFH to hire former NGH employees at their former salaries and with their prior health care and pension benefits," George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said in prepared remarks. "This has been an extremely difficult time for our workers and their families -- we commend their strength, courage and perseverance."

Former NGH employees will undergo a training program developed by IFH and the 1199 Training and Upgrading Fund effective Dec. 1, and move into the IFH clinic positions within two months, according to the terms of the agreement.

"We are extremely relieved that this has been resolved and that we'll be able to return to work caring for the Harlem community we've served for 30 years," Amin Shareef, former NGH clinic employee, said in prepared remarks. "This agreement with IFH means we now have the peace of mind that we'll be able to continue providing for our families."

The union has agreed to support the purchase of the North General Annex, a proposed new facility that will offer expanded services and is backed by a funding pledge from the state.