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Union warns hospital job action is possible this week

The union representing service and maintenance employees at Medina Memorial Hospital served notice of a possible job action on the hospital this week.

Michelle Marto, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union Local 1199 Upstate, said Friday that the job action will occur Thursday unless a deal is reached at a negotiating session set for Tuesday. She said the notice was intentionally vague on what sort of action it will be.

James Scardato, the union's chief negotiator, said it doesn't necessarily have to be a strike. He said informational picketing is also a possibility.

SEIU is attempting to negotiate the first union contract ever for about 200 full-time, part-time and per diem employees at the hospital. The unit includes maintenance, clerical and dietary workers, housekeepers, nurses' aides and home care aides.

Scardato said bargaining has gone on for about eight months. "That's not out of the norm for a first contract," he said.

Marto said the union sought to get the hospital to agree to the same terms on three key issues that it accepted in an SEIU contract with licensed practical nurses three months ago.

However, she said the hospital refused that offer. Hospital President James E. Sinner and the hospital's attorney, James N. Schmit, did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

Scardato said key issues include wages, a union demand for daily instead of weekly overtime, and the union's desire for a short contract, expiring in April 2008.

He said some of the employees are being paid minimum wage now. "After I get done with this contract, they're still going to be the lowest paid in Western New York," Scardato said. "I've got a $7 [per hour] figure in this contract that I'm just sick over."

On the overtime issue, Scardato said workers are currently paid overtime after they exceed 40 hours for the week. The union view is they ought to earn overtime each day they work more than eight hours.

Scardato commented, "I pointed out to [hospital negotiators] that they control the daily overtime. If they staff the place properly, they don't have to worry about it."

Marto said SEIU's request for a contract expiring in April 2008 is "a statewide strategy." She said SEIU wants as many of its local contracts as possible to expire simultaneously to give it more clout with the State Legislature. SEIU has about 260,000 members and a walkout by most of them at once would have a major impact on the state's health care system.

Scardato said more negotiating is coming soon, as the contract between Medina Memorial and its registered nurses expires Dec. 31. Their first bargaining session is slated for Monday.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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