Still without contract, nurses union leads Labor Day parade

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Since the late 1800s, Americans have been celebrating Labor Day to honor and recognize the American labor movement. Today, workers in many different industries are forming unions, saying they need not only to protect their rights but also to fight for better working conditions.

Unions have been the backbone of the nation’s labor movement. Many came out today to commemorate the sacrifices made in the past that created the benefits we enjoy today.

“People died for what we accomplished here in the past, and we can’t forget that,” said Dan Maloney, president of the Rochester Labor Council.

More than 1,000 people from many different industries participated in Monday’s Labor Day parade in Rochester. Leading this year’s parade: nurses from Rochester General Hospital, who just a month ago held their first ever two-day strike.

“The labor community has been amazing to us, and we’re just happy to be supported by them, and to help recognize (and) represent organized labor in Rochester,” said Phoebe Sheehan, registered nurse and member of Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals (RUNAP).

The union was created just 11 months ago and has been negotiating its first-ever contract with Rochester Regional Health. The two are at odds over things like wage increases and increased staffing.

“We’re just hoping to continue to empower nurses and to make Rochester a safer community. We’re gonna keep fighting to do that as long as it takes,” Sheehan said.

In the past few years, there has been an increase in unionization efforts in this region. Companies such as Starbucks and UPS have formed unions. Maloney from the labor council says the COVID-19 pandemic plays a role here.

“It is a worker’s market now. so workers for the first time in a long time can actually dictate terms and conditions, and that’s where unions come in — amplify that voice and that strength and help those workers live their best lives and get that good work-life balance,” Maloney said.

Teamsters Local 118 President Tim Barbeto says encouraging workers to form unions remains a national priority.

“If you look at our country the union density here is much less than many other industrialized countries, and if you look at our economy it ebbs and flows, I think, with the numbers. So if we can get out there and organize, and we start building those numbers back up, it only helps everybody. It helps the economy. It helps the country,” Barbeto said.

Now the nurses union and Rochester Regional Health have been back at the bargaining table — but so far, no contract.