Without us, they don't exist

HUNDREDS OF University of Rochester (UR) and University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) employees turned out for two days of rallies and pickets on October 12-13 in an effort to defend their heath care and wages from drastic cuts.

The 1,800 members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and SEIU Local 200/United, who perform environmental services, patient care, clerical, transportation and other services, are also calling on management to stop trying to intimidate union members, after chief negotiator Tracey Harrison was arrested.

Negotiations for a new contract broke off after management demanded a 1 percent raise in each year of the contract, and for workers to pay $3,000 more for weaker health care coverage--a massive pay cut for employees who make $28,000 a year on average.

On September 29, campus security at the Medical Center stopped 1199 SEIU organizer Tracey Harrison as he was giving leaflets to union members and updating union bulletin boards. UR then had him arrested by Rochester Police on trespassing charges and banned him from UR property (a ban that was rescinded a few days later).

At that point, the union broke off negotiations, filed unfair labor practices charges against the university, and provided the mandatory 10-day notice of intent to begin picketing the facility.

Union members came together in meetings to discuss UR management's contract proposals and vote on whether they wanted to picket as a response. Nearly 800 members participated, and in a secret ballot decided overwhelmingly--757 to 9--to stage a series of pickets, marches and rallies designed to demonstrate the workers' strength and support.

Although no one is striking, the pickets and actions have marked a major test of strength. The actions fell on UR's autumn showcase "Meliora Weekend," or homecoming--making it clear to administrators how far UR workers are ready to go.

Chants of "No contract, no work!" and "What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now! If we don't get it? Shut it down!" resonated throughout the picketing and the march the following day.

"If we don't work, it's a domino effect," a worker said. "If the kitchen goes, the patients aren't going to eat? If the patient techs go, who's going to clean the rooms? If transportation goes, who's going to get patients to the X-rays? Nurses can't do all that. It's not going to happen...without us, they don't exist."