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Hundreds at Stony Brook Hospital rally for rays of financial gain during a downpour

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Photos by Jane Briggs

By DEBORAH A. MILES 

As a downpour nearly drenched hundreds of PEF nurses and emergency medical service (EMS) paramedics outside of Stony Brook University Medical Center at a May 16 rally, the weather did not dampen their enthusiasm and determination to get their message heard.

Under brightly colored umbrellas, they chanted, “Be fair to those who care,” and “Our EMS are the best!” They organized to let the hospital’s managers, the press and the public know that they are not being paid fairly, not even close to what their counterparts earn at other Long Island hospitals. The pay inequity has led to a severe lack of recruiting and retaining qualified staff, which also has affected patient care.

Wearing bright red T-shirts as a sign of solidarity and waving handmade signs, PEF members listened and cheered as PEF President Wayne Spence addressed the crowd.

“Nurses here make extremely less money compared to their counterparts at Mather, St. Charles, Southside and Huntington. A nurse who has worked 10 years at Stony Brook will make $33,000 less than a nurse at Huntington. We are here to even the playing field, so our nurses can do their jobs and not worry about who is the next one to leave.”

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ADDRESSING THE CROWD – Council Leader Tony Tirella and PEF President Wayne Spence support the nurses and EMS staff fighting for fair wages and safe staffing ratios.

PEF Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins, a neonatal intensive care nurse at Stony Brook, said the pay and retention issue has peaked, and the time to take the issues to the street has arrived.

“We need a movement to get fair pay, so we can deliver the quality of care with other dedicated nurses who chose this profession, and who choose to stay at Stony Brook,” Higgins said. “This is the first step.

“This rally helped to bring awareness, but for those affected it was an S.O.S., and a last-ditch effort before they become one of the dearly departed.”

Jason Schmidt, a paramedic who has worked at Stony Brook for more than 17 years, said this was his first PEF rally and he was glad to participate and bring attention to their issues to hospital management.

“This event was a camaraderie builder among hospital staff. We have a common goal of being fairly compensated, but this was not just about the money. The low pay here leads others to more appealing jobs. I don’t know what effect this rally had on managers, but it did bring us together. There were family members of patients and other visitors who walked past us, so the rally did provide an image to outsiders and the press that there are some unhappy people here who are just trying to improve patient care by recruiting and retaining qualified staff.”

The community was also aware, even if they did not attend the rally, itself. PEF provided a mobile billboard that drove through Stony Brook and neighboring  areas, the day before and on the rally day, spotlighting the worker’s issues.

Anthony “Tony” Tirella, PEF council leader at Stony Brook, said it was important for the voices of the nurses and EMS members to be heard.

“I think the rally was a tremendous success. Nurses get a half-hour lunch break, and they took turns to come out on their own time. We estimated 400 nurses and EMS personnel came out. The message I would really like to say, is that when you act together, as opposed to acting apart, when you demonstrate a united front, people will hear your voice. I hope management heard our voice and will move things along faster for the sake of our nurses and EMS personnel,” Tirella said.

Barbara Coniglio, a registered nurse at Stony Brook, agreed.

“I hashtag ‘Stronger Together’ on all my Facebook posts, and I talk about strength in numbers. If all of us stand together, our message will get out there. I am also urging people to call or write their legislators and to get them on board with our issues. Nurses and the EMS paramedics are the backbone of health care in the community. If these elected people are representing us, they need to realize this and do their job.”

As ‘Stronger Together’ was the undercurrent at the rally, many of the picketers signed union membership cards, an outward act that they believe the union works for them.

News coverage of the event can be found here:
• https://www.newsday.com/business/stony-brook-medicine-nurses-ems-1.18573529

• http://www.fios1news.com/longisland/local-stony-brook-university-hospital-workers-say-pay-inequality-impacts-patient-care#.Wv2Lwu4vyUk

• http://tbrnewsmedia.com/stony-brook-university-hospital-employees-seek-better-pay-benefits/

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ALL FOR UNIONISM — A Stony Brook nurse signs a PEF membership card at the rally. PEF Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins, above, holds a PEF banner in front of the mobile billboard truck that drove through the community and parked at the event.

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