GW Hospital employees protest union contract deadlock

Media Credit: Sarah Roach | Staff Photograher

Members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East protest in front of GW Hospital Saturday.

More than 300 unionized workers rallied outside GW Hospital Saturday to protest a contract stalemate that has been ongoing for more than four months.

Employees said they organized the rally to demand higher wages and a new contract with GW Hospital – efforts that initially began earlier this year. At a similar protest in February, workers claimed that after more than a year of meetings with the employee union, hospital officials threw out the contract that had been drafted and requested that all negotiations start anew.

Union workers from five different states, including Florida and New York, traveled to the protest in solidarity with the 200 GW Hospital workers.

Yahnae Barner – the vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a local health care union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union – said that since the group’s first protest in February, there have been two negotiation meetings, but none have resulted in progress toward a new contract.

“We go to a negotiation, and we’re there for hours, and nothing really gets done to accomplish anything,” she said.

Barner said that because negotiations have stalled, the union filed charges against GW Hospital with the National Labor Relations Board in March alleging that hospital representatives have not bargained in good faith.

A GW Hospital spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Union workers stood outside GW Hospital for about two hours chanting, “when they say busted, we say fight back,” and “to win this fight, we must unite,” filling up the sidewalk along 23rd Street.

George Gresham, the president of 1199SEIU, said he believes the little progress made to draft a new contract is part of an ongoing effort from hospital officials to weaken the worker union. Hospital employees have stopped collecting dues from workers who wish to remain in the union, diminishing its legitimacy, he said.

“This hospital has a very good reputation of patient care, so show us that you also understand employee care,” he said. “We’re not asking for anything we don’t deserve; we’re not asking for anything that you can’t afford to give us.”

Valerie Brown, a union member who traveled from New York, said she came to the rally because health care workers at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx are facing the same setbacks around the negotiation table that GW Hospital employees have experienced in recent months.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about 1199,” Brown said. “It’s that if they break one union, they’re going to break them all.”

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