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SEIU unions at the University of Rochester vote to authorize a strike

Arleata Robin White, who has worked as a Patient Care Technician at Strong Memorial Hospital for 25 years and serves as the vice chair delegate with 1199 SEIU, pickets along side union caregiversand service workers at University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Strong Memorial Hospital and River Campus picket infront of the hospital after the unions contract covering the workers expired last month. The worker are seeeking wage increases and stronger benefits package. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
Arleata Robin White, who has worked as a patient care technician at Strong Memorial Hospital for 25 years and serves as the vice chair delegate with 1199SEIU, pickets earlier this month alongside union caregivers and service workers in front of the hospital after the union's contract covering the workers expired last month. The workers are seeking wage increases and a stronger benefits package.

After multiple bargaining sessions and an informational picket, the two SEIU unions at the University of Rochester authorized a strike in a nearly unanimous vote Tuesday.

The next step will be deciding on when to issue a 10-day notice to the university.

The unions held the vote because they’ve been unable to reach a contract agreement with the university.

The flow of workers at Tuesday’s strike vote remained steady throughout the 10-hour voting shift at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church on Mount Hope Avenue.

1199SEIU Vice President Tracey Harrison said he was pleased with the turnout.

“The workers who have expressed extreme frustration over the last couple of years ... are determined to come out and make sure that their voice is being heard," Harrison said. "And it's definitely has met my expectations.”

Members of 1199SEIU and SEIU 200United — which represent more than 1,800 service workers and patient caregivers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the university's River Campus and the Eastman School of Music — are bargaining for what they call livable wages and quality benefits.

Arleata Robin White, who has been working at Strong Memorial Hospital for 25 years, said the fight is also about respect.

“It's like they look down on the union workers, and they shouldn't because we are a necessity to the hospital," White said. "We are the center core workers of the hospital and the college campus. Without us — believe me, the hospital would not flow the way it does.”

Angel Sprinkle has been a cook on the university campus for 16 years. She said the strike has been a long time coming, and the moment has come for the workers to take action.

“It's important that the employer understands that we are the workers that actually make this facility move," Sprinkle said. "We're the ones who do the hard work, we provide all the services. ... So it's important that we are appreciated, respected and compensated for our efforts.”

Union representatives have said that a strike is not what they want, but what they have been forced to do.

Harrison said he hopes both parties can continue to negotiate in good faith.

In a statement, the University of Rochester said "it has been negotiating in good faith since late August with union representatives from 1199SEIU and 200United SEIU for a multi-year contract renewal that is competitive, fair, and equitable."

The university said it will continue to bargain in good faith toward a new contract.

"We remain optimistic that we can reach agreement on a renewal," the university said. "Should a strike occur, University of Rochester operations, including patient care at the Medical Center, will continue without disruption through the implementation of our contingency plans that will allow essential teaching, research and patient care activities to proceed."

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.