Nurses union members announced nearly 100% support for a strike outside Peconic Bay Medical Center Thursday afternoon. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Nurses and healthcare workers at Peconic Bay Medical Center, who say they are seeking wages and benefits on par with those paid at other Long Island hospitals, have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.

Members of the union representing the workers gathered with supporters across the street from the hospital this afternoon to await the vote result. Christopher Honor, president of the union’s local bargaining unit at Peconic, announced the result: 99.5 % of the more than 700 healthcare workers at Peconic Bay Medical Center and Long Island Jewish Valley Stream authorized a strike, Honor said.

Both PBMC and LIJ Valley Stream are part of the Northwell Health System. 

Peconic healthcare professionals are the lowest paid on Long Island, according to the New York State Nurses Association, which represents 400 nurses and other healthcare workers throughout the Riverhead hospital, including imaging, laboratory and pharmacy workers. 

Starting pay at PBMC is approximately $12,000 less than at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, another Northwell hospital, according to Marie Boyle, a member of the board of directors of the New York State Nurses Association. The top of the scale at PBMC is approximately $32,000 lower than it is at South Shore, 30 miles to the west, Boyle said.

The low pay scale poses a significant obstacle to recruiting and retaining enough nurses and healthcare professionals, resulting in high turnover and persistent understaffing issues, according to the union. 

“We don’t want to leave our patients. We can’t afford not to get paid… But Northwell has forced our hand,” said Kathy Dillon, a registered nurse at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. “We are not walking out. We are standing up.” Photo: Denise Civiletti

Kathy Dillon, an RN with Northwell Health for over 23 years, the last four at PBMC, said the workers are united, fired up and determined to get a fair contract. “We are fed up. We are tired,” Dillon said. “We cannot retain staff,” she said. “And we know Northwell has the money. They’re expanding. They’re advertising. They’re renaming venues like Jones Beach Theater,” Dillon said. 

“They invest in so many things. And we just ask: Please invest in us.”

Dillon said nurses and healthcare workers do not take the decision to strike lightly. “We don’t want to leave our patients. We can’t afford not to get paid. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck. But Northwell has forced our hand,” she  said. “We are not  walking out. We are standing up.”

Ani Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, said his organization stands in solidarity with the healthcare workers. 

“I know that you guys work 12-plus hours, sometimes 16 hours, 3, 4 or 5 days a week, taking care of patients, not being able to take your breaks, not being able to go to the bathroom, injuring yourselves — all the while making sure that every single person feels safe in the hospital and is cared for, and has all of their needs met,” Halasz said.

“I imagine it’s probably not irony that we are standing at 1 Heroes Way in front of heroes right now,” Halaz said. “But I have to say that that is not how your employer is treating you. If anything, they are treating you as disposable,” he said.

“So all I want to say right now is that —”  Halaz turned to face the hospital’s main entrance and shouted into a bullhorn, his voice echoing off the front of the hospital building across the street —“Northwell needs to pay their workers and bargain a fair contract.” 

“We love our community, we love our patients. We do not want to go on strike. However, we are prepared to do what we have to do,” said NYSNA Local Bargaining Unit President Christopher Honor, a nurse at Peconic Bay Medical Center. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Honor said the workers are not asking for anything unreasonable. “But we have been driven to this point of taking a strike vote, which we did today, because, again, we’re just looking to be respected and … understood about what we all do here at this fine hospital. We love our community, we love our patients. We do not want to go on strike. However, we are prepared to do what we have to do,” he said. 

Honor said after the rally that the vote doesn’t mean an immediate strike. “We’re going to continue to negotiate in good faith,” he said. But if that fails, the next step is to give a strike notice. A minimum of 10 days notice is required. 

“We want to negotiate a fair contract. That remains our goal,” he said.

Representatives of Assembly Member Jodi Giglio, Assembly Member Fred Thiele and the Long Island Federation of Labor stood with the union members outside PBMC to show support.

In a statement this afternoon, Peconic Bay Medical Center said it will continue to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement with the union, whose contract expired Dec. 31. 

“Our goal is to reach an agreement that continues to provide our valued nurses and allied professionals with competitive compensation and benefits and ensures a safe, supportive working environment that enables them to provide exceptional care that our patients and community have come to trust,” the hospital said in the statement, expressing optimism that an agreement can be reached.

“A vote to strike does not mean that there will be a strike. In the event of a strike, patient care remains our highest priority. We will continue to serve our patients and our community by providing uninterrupted world-class care,” the hospital said.

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