Two of the city’s most powerful health care unions are indicating the official end to their long-running feud. On April 7, the 120,000-member, city-based 1199 National Health and Human Services Employees Union and the 33,000-member New York State Nurses Association, will announce their collaboration on a joint nurses job-training and education program.
Typically, such agreements by themselves don’t attract much notice, but this non-agression pact is noteworthy. Any collaboration between 1199 and NYSNA would have been unthinkable even a year ago. For years, the two unions have aggressively competed for workers, occasionally raiding each other’s membership. The thaw in relations became evident a year ago, when 1199 leaders supported NYSNA in bitter contract negotiations with Long Island College Hospital.
“It’s better [for unions] to work together than beat up on each other,” said Carolyn McCullough, director of NYSNA’s economic and general welfare program. Still, McCullough dismissed rumors of a pending merger. “A first step in an affiliation? Maybe,” she said. “But a merger? Never!”
The new registered nurses fund will be administered by both unions, along with hospital trustees from the 60-member League of Voluntary Hospitals. The league includes such local powerhouses as Columbia-Presbyterian, Bronx-Lebanon, Mt. Sinai and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt hospitals. The collaboration was prompted by federal legislation appropriating $1.25 billion for a five-year program to assist hospitals in New York State make the transition to less centralized managed care systems.
A quarter of the federal money, which was allocated following a lobbying effort led by 1199 boss Dennis Rivera, must go to retraining employees so they can survive the new system or prepare for jobs elsewhere. The hospitals could not touch a dime of the money for themselves until unions signed off on how the retraining program would be run.
At press time, the nurses union was preparing to strike the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park over unresolved health benefit issues. The hospital has a familiar cast of characters. Its CEO is former Koch administrator Stanley Brezenoff, who is also current Hospitals League head, and Brezenoff’s chief negotiator is former Koch collective bargaining czar Robert Linn.