Employees fighting for Poughkeepsie-area hospitals to recognize Juneteenth

The Biden administration declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, as June 19, 1865, marks the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas.

African-American employees at three hospitals in Poughkeepsie, New York, are calling for Juneteenth to be recognized as a holiday. 

The Mid Hudson News reports that members of the local Service Employees International Union chapter gathered to rally on Dec. 1 near Vassar Brothers Medical Center (VBMC) to also demand increased wages and staff to help with the workload. 

A Pan-African flag flies from Black Lives Matter Plaza overlooking the White House on Juneteenth to mark the liberation of slavery in 1865 on June 19, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)

Local 1199, which represents workers at Vassar Brothers Medical Center (VBMC), Putnam Hospital, and Northern Dutchess Hospital, has been negotiating with VBMC’s parent company Nuvance Health since their contract expired at the end of September. The workers claim Nuvance is “out of touch” when it comes to the company’s racial demographics.

Many hospitals in the area recognize Juneteenth but the holiday is not included in Nuvance’s contract, which reportedly dissatisfies many African-American members.

Last year, the Biden administration declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, as June 19, 1865, marks the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas. 

“It’s such an important holiday to have the employer recognize in a contract given that many of our members are people of color and it’s such a significant holiday,” Local 1199 Executive Vice President Greg Speller told Mid Hudson News. 

Speller said Nuvance “is out of step with others in the Hudson Valley” and “out of step with their competitors in the Hudson Valley.” 

“We hope they see the importance of adding that holiday to the contract,” Speller added. 

In addition to the Juneteeth holiday, Local 1199 members are also asking that a livable wage be added to the contract, as there is a dire need for new hires. 

According to the Mid Hudson News, there have been protests at VBMC and Putnam Hospital for several months, by staffers, patients, residents, and elected officials, over the long waits in emergency rooms and every department at the facilities. Workers claim the long waits are due to staff shortages and blame Nuvance for not hiring new employees. 

The company has repeatedly stated that the staff shortage is nationwide and was made worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Mid Hudson News, many Patient Care Technicians at VBMC earn $16.71 per hour, and members of Local 1199 say such a low pay rate is not enticing to new applicants.  

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