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A strike averted

[This editorial originally appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of the New York Teacher.]

More than 1,800 UFT members were poised to strike recently. Picket sites were selected around the city for nurses employed by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, if a new contract was not reached by the Feb. 1 strike deadline. Strike captains were named.

The strike was narrowly averted when the UFT won an agreement to preserve the pensions and health care that the employer had sought to cut. The nurses also won a pay raise.

The victory is a reminder of how necessary unions are.

It isn’t just people who work at public schools, at other government agencies or in private industry who need collective bargaining.

“Employees of large nonprofit organizations need unions, too,” UFT Vice President Anne Goldman said.

VNS is a large and well-established nonprofit that provides in-home nursing care, therapy and hospice care to the frail and elderly.

You might think that such organizations, with nonprofit status and a mission of care-giving, could naturally be counted on to treat employees fairly.

But last fall, VNS abruptly laid off 500 staff, including 300 nurses, after the organization came under state scrutiny for improper Medicaid billings linked to the use of social adult day-care centers. The organization had to repay the government $33.6 million in the settlement.

In the wake of that settlement, VNS told its nurses that it needed to eliminate their pension benefits and require them to pay for their own health care. The nurses, backed by their union, held firm.

Now that a contract has been won, the UFT hopes to turn a page in its relationship with VNS to one of mutual respect.

VNS nurses gained that respect at the bargaining table by standing in solidarity with their union.