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Health care workers at Eastern Long Island Hospital rally for better contract

Standing in the street outside Eastern Long Island Hospital chanting through a megaphone, Sharin Thomson repeated “What do we want?”

Each time a chorus of voices responded “Contracts!”

As they chanted and waved clappers, the approximately dozen health care professionals walked in a circle holding signs, some reading “ELIH shame on you,” “Union strong” and “This is about patient care.”

The picketers — nurses, radiologists, nurses assistants, physical therapists, social workers and more who work at ELIH — camped outside the hospital from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday to protest what they said was management’s plans to cut their pensions, job stability and job training opportunities.

“One hundred percent of the institution is unionized,” Ms. Thomson said. “We have about 325 workers here… Workers deserve raises, training, benefits and that’s what management is trying to take away and cut.”

Ms. Thompson said nearly 50 percent of the union’s membership participated in the rally over the course of the day.

Contract negotiations have been ongoing over the last two months, according to the union’s informational brochure. It also says management has “refused to bargain with us in good faith” and has argued that they cannot afford the costs of training, salaries and pensions.

Picketers outside Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport Thursday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Part of the 1199 SEIU United HealthCare Workers Union, the members joined health care providers from other hospitals across Long Island and in New York City who are negotiating for better contracts together, including those at Southampton Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

ELIH president and CEO Paul Connor said Thursday afternoon that the informational picketing was a standard part of the negotiating process, adding “both parties are negotiating in good faith and we hope for a rapid conclusion to produce a new multi-year collective bargaining agreement.”

Ms. Thomson, a union organizer, said the group gave management at the hospital a deadline of July 13 to present them with a better contract. Should management not have something on paper by tomorrow, those picketing plan to let their contracts expire. They are set to expire Sept. 30.

Then they’ll strike.

“If they let it go to Sept. 30 and the expiration of our contract we will serve them with a strike notice on Oct. 1,” Ms. Thomson said.

She added that this wouldn’t be the first time workers at ELIH went on strike, as they did so for a few days in 1993.

Ms. Thomson said a few workers talked to patients about the situation and potential for a strike this fall and received their support and understanding.

“We certainly don’t want to do that,” she said. “It wasn’t a good time for people. We don’t do that lightly. We start like this and this is hopefully going to push them into doing the right thing.”

Photo caption: Sharin Thomson lead the protest outside Eastern Long Island Hospital Thursday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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