SEIU workers at U of R, Strong Hospital, issue picket notice

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Eighteen hundred service workers at the University of Rochester and Strong Memorial Hospital say they feel as if they’ve been forgotten because despite working during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they say, they can’t get a fair contract. So, they’ve issued a picket notice.

News10NBC’s Jennifer Mobilia spoke with some of those workers on Monday.

Cassandra Knight, who’s been a patient care tech at Strong Memorial Hospital for seven and a half years, explained what it was like working during the pandemic.

"Stressful. We didn’t know what to expect," Knight said. "We didn’t know if we were going to take COVID home or what was going to happen."

Knight is one of the 1,800 1199 SEIU and SEIU Local 200United members who haven’t had a wage increase since 2019 and have been working without a contract since Sept. 11, 2021.

"The bargaining unit is not being treated like heroes," Knight said.

Kellie Miller also works at Strong Hospital.

"I am a chronic asthmatic," Miller said. "I was here, I worked, coming to work not knowing if I was going to go home. It was more mental than anything for me."

Miller has worked in patient transportation for the past 24 years.

"We worked through a pandemic with nothing, everything that came in the door as far as flowers, pizza donuts was leftovers," Miller said. "We extended our contract for a year so a lot of us worked without a raise while others received raises and other types of incentives."

The union, URMC and U of R management have been working with a federal mediator on a new deal, but so far no luck.

"We want a fair contract, we would like our bonus pay, we would like our raises and we want to keep our healthcare," Knight said.

If they don’t have a deal by Nov. 3, union members will take to the picket line.

"We are a piece of the puzzle," Miller said. "We hold this hospital together where if your family needs to get an x-ray or if their room needs to get cleaned or if somebody wanted their breakfast in a timely manner we all play a special part."

The U of R sent News10NBC the following statement:

"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."