HUDSON — Columbia Memorial Hospital union employees are dismayed at the hospital’s recent contract offer, which they said lacks financial incentives despite their frontline work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hospital offered a 0% wage increase for 2020, 1% for 2021, 1.25% for 2022, and 1.5% for 2023, 1199 Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Mindy Berman said.
The contract expired Dec. 31, 2019, but was extended to mid-August because of COVID-19, Berman said. In August the union asked for a 60-day extension and management didn’t respond.
The nurses and technicians represented by the union have been working without a contract for several weeks.
Hospital spokesman Bill Van Slyke declined to comment on details of the negotiations, but said Columbia Memorial’s package is generous.
“We provide our team with a generous and comprehensive compensation package that includes competitive wages, excellent health benefits, flexible schedules and ample time off. That combination is rare in today’s marketplace,” Van Slyke said.
Robin Johnson has been working as a nurse at the hospital for about 30 years. As a member of the 1199 SEIU negotiating committee, she knows union negotiations typically bring tensions. But this year has been disappointing, she said.
The hospital offered a 0% raise for the first year of the four-year contract before COVID-19 hit, and after taking a break to address the pandemic, negotiations worsened, Johnson said.
“They tell us what great employees we are, and how thankful they are... We come back to the table, and yet again, 0%,” Johnson said. “Now they’re telling us they want to raise our family health insurance to $8,500 a year.”
In the offer, the hospital raised the price tag for employees’ insurance plans by 5%, union representative Kim Lyons said.
She said the wages do not keep up with the cost of living in Hudson.
“They have no regard for the people that work here, even with the cost of living going up yearly, they have no regard for the employees and they can’t understand why they can’t keep them,” Johnson said. “People come here, they work, they get their experience and go someplace else that will pay them a wage. Hudson itself has turned into a very expensive place to live.”
Colleen Daley, a nurse and member of the negotiating committee, said the insurance shift is unfair, and the overall offer is hurtful.
“People are losing money,” she said.
Daley said the Hudson community has been supportive, but the hospital has not been bargaining in good faith.
“We worked through a pandemic,” she said.
The signs of appreciation the hospital provided haven’t been enough, Johnson said.
“Their examples of thanking us was just a platitude,” she said. “They gave us two stale cookies and a banner on the outskirts of the city that says, ‘Thank you for being dedicated employees.’ I’m like, are you kidding?”
LeRoy Truesdale joined the hospital staff as a respiratory therapist in April after hearing about the positive team atmosphere at CMH, While he has appreciated his co-workers and direct supervisor, the lack of incentives for respiratory therapists to join, and stay, has caused his team to be short-staffed.
“It’s a community hospital. A lot of the therapists have been working there for years, love this hospital, they have patients that are regulars that they see and it’s like a second home, so they don’t want to leave. But at the same time if you can walk into another place and right away when you walk in you’re making $10-15 an hour more than if you stayed, what’s the incentive to stay?”
Truesdale said he has been rotating between night and day shifts because his department is understaffed, even though he is a day worker. He said that in addition to a lower base pay, CMH has not offered hazard pay. When COVID-19 hit, members of his team left to work elsewhere.
“They were like, you know what? If I’m going to be risking my life and having this direct and dangerous contact with the patients and be the ones there while they’re hacking and coughing to put them on all these different therapies to help them to breathe — I’m going to be right there in that room with them — then why wouldn’t I go to a hospital at least that appreciates me, that is going to say, ‘We value you; we see what you’re risking here in order to take care of the patients and so we’re going to give you that hazard pay, we’re going to give you that crisis pay,’” Truesdale said.
A job posting dated July 24 for a respiratory therapist position is listed on the hospital website.
Recent graduates earn $25.81 an hour to work as respiratory therapists at CMH, Truesdale said. Glens Falls Hospital offers $27.77; Albany Medical Center $29 and HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston offers $41 with a $3,500 signing bonus, he said.
“It’s not just the bases, it’s the night and weekend differentials,” Truesdale said.
He said that at Columbia Memorial, if he works after 3 p.m. he gets $1.10 more per hour, but at Glens Falls the night differential is 20% more per hour; and at Trinity Health and HealthAlliance it’s $4 more per hour.
With no set raise based on number of years with Columbia Memorial, an employee could work at CMH for 10 years without a substantial raise, he said.
Glens Falls Hospital, Trinity Health, Northern Dutchess Hospital and HealthAlliance all offer raises when an employee has been with the company for 10 years, according to Truesdale.
“In some cases it could be $10-$15 more an hour,” not including the night differential and hazard pay, he said.
He is not sure if he will be able to stay at Columbia Memorial if the negotiations do not make progress.
“If these negotiations go through and they don’t do something about these gaps, then I mean, I already told my boss that I just won’t be able to afford to stay, especially if the insurance is going up like they’re proposing,” he said.
The union hopes to have the hospital offer raises at 5- and 10-year benchmarks for employees, Lyons said.
The average salary for respiratory therapists is $78,640, according to the state Department of Labor. For entry level workers, it is $62,320.
Respiratory therapists at Columbia Memorial work 37.5 hours per week in 12-hour shifts, which would make the annual base salary for entry level respiratory therapists $50,329, Berman said.
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson said he supports the union organizers. “CMH explains on their website that they have a dedicated, experienced and talented staff who experience an unlimited opportunity for personal and professional growth,” he said. “They clearly state that they appreciate their employees and now it’s time to show it not with words and pictures, but with actions. The reward for hard work and sacrifice should not be a negotiation.”
A “Bargaining Bulletin” flyer dated Aug. 27 quotes organizer Robin Johnson saying upper management has received significant wage increases. Berman could not confirm this, but a handout from the union references CEO Jay Cahalan, COO Karen Tassey, and CFO Brian Mahoney’s 2016-18 salaries. The hospital’s tax forms, which are public record, show an increase in the administrators’ salaries from 2016 to 2017, with Cahalan earning $623,841 in 2016, and $740,974 in 2017; Tassey earning $286,677 in 2016 and $290,903 in 2017; and Mahoney earning $177,979 in 2016 and $239,306 in 2017. Each administrator worked an average of 40 hours per week in 2016 and 40 hours per week plus 1 hour a week for a related organization in 2017, according to the tax forms.
The next round of contract negotiations will take place Tuesday at the Hudson firehouse, 77 North 7th St., and Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.
Editor's note: This article includes a corrected rate increase proposed by the hospital in 2022 from 1% to 1.25%.