Senator urges NY hospital to provide equitable pay to workers

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has asked Hudson, N.Y.-based Columbia Memorial Health to work with a union representing its workers to adequately address wages and staffing, according to a report published Aug. 19 on hudsonvalley360.com

In an Aug. 18 letter, Ms. Gillibrand called on the hospital administration to address staffing shortages and offer unionized employees "fair and equitable compensation and benefits" comparable to other facilities in the region, according to the report.

She also said Columbia Memorial Health's unwillingness to provide equitable compensation has resulted in losing valuable workers to other hospitals and decreased access to proper medical care.

Bill Van Slyke, a spokesperson for Columbia Memorial Health, disputed Ms. Gillibrand's remarks, calling them an unfortunate misunderstanding.

"The real challenges to healthcare are very well documented, but we very much welcome the senator's interest in this matter because much can be done at the federal level to address the core factors coming to bear here," he said in a statement shared with hudsonvalley360.com. "Upstate New York is particularly affected by the staffing shortage, and professional healthcare associations like Iroquois Healthcare Association have accumulated metrics from upstate hospitals that document and validate the real challenges. We are hopeful that the senator will recognize these factors and work to establish policy solutions that will address the core issues."

Regarding wages, Columbia Memorial Health has voluntarily increased pay beyond what's in the current union contract that is set to expire in December 2023, to pay employees fairly and equitably and remain aligned with the market, Mr. Van Slyke told Becker's.

Ms. Gillibrand's letter comes after some union members met with her.

Mr. Van Slyke said Columbia Memorial Health has sent communication to the senator regarding her letter and is hopeful that will resonate. 

The union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told Becker's the issue "is not about opening a contract for bargaining. There are negotiating positions and departments as every department and every position is short-staffed. The 1199 members continue to request labor/management meetings to address the problem."

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East represents more than 600 workers at Columbia Memorial Health, according to the union.

Columbia Memorial Health is a multicampus health system including a 192-bed acute care hospital and 40 outlying primary and specialty care centers. 

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