‘Standing strong’: Union workers at UR, Strong pushing for better pay, benefits

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Roughly 1,800 union workers at the University of Rochester and Strong Memorial Hospital are heading back to the bargaining table, pushing for better pay and benefits. 

Recently, contracts covering these nearly 2-thousand service employees expired, leading 1199SEIU and SEIU Local 200United workers to issue a 10-day picket notice. 

If a deal isn’t reach by Nov. 3, workers plan to picket.

The service workers negotiating are health care technicians, nursing assistants, cooks, truck drivers, among other things, but they say they all wanted to be treated with fairness and respect. 

“We worked through the pandemic. They told us leave, we left, they told us come back, we came back. And we’re standing here now fighting for the right for all our workers,” said Barry Mewborn. 

Mewborn has worked as a cook helper on the U of R campus for nine years. He says the pandemic has been difficult for him and his colleagues, making this new contract even more important. 

“We come to work every day for the students, for the patients, for everyone, even our employees. They come down to eat where we cook at. So we stand strong daily and now we’re standing strong for a contract that we deserve,” Mewborn said.  “The union is a union for reason.”

Mewborn is one of many union workers asking for a new contract with higher pay, new benefits, affordable insurance and support for staffing issues. 

“Just a fair contract, you know? Fair wages, fair treatment, nothing more, nothing less. And that’s about it… just to be looked at as equals and treated respectively,” said Dana Allison, a patient care technician at the hospital. 

“We have individuals who have worked through an entire pandemic and there has not been any type of recognition from a monetary standpoint and these folks deserve that. There needs to be some type of recognition. And on top of that, they have not had a raise since 2019,” said Tracey Harrison, Regional Vice President for 1199SEIU.

Some of the service workers under these union contracts say during the pandemic they have worked hard every day, but don’t always feel like they get recognition. Allison says he hopes to see that change. 

“Side by side with the non-union workers, we’ve been working side by side with them and we just we just want to be treated fairly. So just treated fairly, fair contract, respect, and dignity. That’s about it,” Allison said. 

The workers are also asking for State of Emergency or hazard pay, which is something officials say they need after the last 18 months. 

“We’ve had individuals who have experienced strokes, heart attacks, we’ve had members who have passed away, family members who have passed away from this horrible pandemic. So it’s very personal. It’s very up close and personal for our folks,” Harrison said. 

Harrison added, if nothing else, he hopes the service workers are recognized for their efforts. 

“It’s about recognition, right? That you do matter, you do matter. And being that this is the number one employer, this should be an easy thing for them,” he said. 

As of Tuesday, union workers will still working on negotiations. However, many say they are “cautiously optimistic” they will come to an agreement. 

In a statement to News 8, URMC said: 

The University of Rochester is negotiating renewal of a three-year contract with leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1199 and Local 200, which represent approximately 1,700 University employees, including about 1,400 at Strong Memorial Hospital. Both sides are continuing to negotiate in good faith, and we hope to reach an agreement in the near future that is fair to our union workers and all University employees.

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