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AUBURN — A new health care union looking to get an agreement finalized said its members are not receiving fair wages or treatment.

Employees at multi-specialty group practice Auburn Memorial Medical Services, which is affiliated with Auburn Community Hospital, started a bargaining unit under the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union in October 2018. The union held a press conference in front of the Auburn Medical Building Thursday to talk about their difficulty securing a contract. 

The bargaining unit includes licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, administrative assistants and more and accounts for 16 different offices divided from seven addresses used by AMMS, whose workers don't work directly for the Auburn hospital.

A news release from the union said Auburn workers "made clear their desire to have a voice at work and the ability to negotiate a union contract to address issues with unfair wages, high turnover rates, and disrespect in the workplace."

Bargaining for a first contract started in March 2019, the news release said, but an agreement has not been made. The news release said one of the reasons why the conference was held was to announce the delivery of  petitions signed by union members to demand "union rights and a fair contract."

Over 35 people, including union members, Auburn Mayor Michael Quill, Auburn City Councilors Jimmy Giannettino and Dia Carabajal and Cayuga County Legislature Minority Leader Keith Batman, attended Thursday's event.

Tiffany Fotopoulos, administrator organizer for the Auburn bargaining unit, said the union has had 17 bargaining sessions with AMMS but feels "management is still unwilling to agree to basic union rights already recognized by Auburn hospital." 

Fotopoulos said some union members couldn't attend the event because they had to go to their second jobs "to make ends meet."

"Let that sink in: There's members who couldn't be here today who had to work multiple jobs, which is not right, it's really not right. Management needs to show their support to all members and just help settle that contract now, work with us, if they care, if they really respect us," she said.

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One of the speakers was registered nurse Anne Bishop, who helped found the Auburn bargaining unit. She said she feels the union is simply asking for equal rights that all employees should possess.

"We deserve respect and dignity and a voice on our job. We deserve recognition for the many years that we've committed to this organization and to this city's patients. We voted to join 1199 to gain our job security and to get regular pay increases," Bishop said. "Instead, we're watching our co-workers leave time and time and time again."

Carabajal said that as a councilor, she is often asked when more jobs will be brought to the city, but she never hears "from politicians and people who want to be on the city council" on preserving existing jobs.

"I want to tell you, don't let other politicians tell you that they support a union and not show it in action," she said. "They need to be here. Where are they? You want jobs in the city of Auburn? They already exist. We want good paying jobs in the city of Auburn."

In a news release, Auburn Community Hospital said it has negotiated with its unions in good faith for decades.

"The work in physician offices is very different than what one might do in the hospital given the range of patients and the acute nature of the health issues hospital employees’ face on a 24-7 basis. As such the first contract with this union will be potentially be very different and perhaps more complex," the hospital said. "We are now in the process of developing an entirely new contract with nurses and other staff who work in our private physician’s practices neighboring the hospital. We have met with the SEIU 1199 representing these employees seventeen times over the course of six months. In all cases we negotiate in good faith. Public relations stunts and innuendos will not dissuade the hospital from working with this union to finalize an entirely new labor agreement."

The hospital said it is critical to balance the hospital's financial health with the union's demands.

"The hospital’s mission is to always put the patient’s health first and we will deliver care to anyone who comes through our doors regardless of their ability to pay. Hospital & AMMS management value all of our employees and we will continue to work with them to deliver exceptional health care for our community," the hospital said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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