PEF backing, union solidarity results in success at Roswell Park
By DEBORAH A. MILES
PEF’s mantra, “together we win,” continues to create successful results for union members. In December, it was the ratification of the PS&T contract where members overwhelmingly voted to accept a deal that offered raises and no givebacks.
Most recently, the together we win mindset united nurses at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo when management gave nurses a letter saying there would be no union-negotiated 2 percent retroactive check for them.
Just as the nurses were getting prepared to fight, PEF President Wayne Spence was also taking action.
“We did not hesitate to address this issue head on,” Spence said. “I had a conference call with the PEF department directors of Contract Administration, Legal, Field and Communications, as we spoke to Michele Silsby, PEF Division 196 council leader at Roswell and Executive Board members Marilynn DiCara and Bruce Jagroop.
“We were prepared to take legal action and launch a public relations campaign within a couple of days.
Ironically, Roswell management happened to schedule six town hall meetings to introduce the nurses to the new chief nursing officer at the same time it sent out the letter.
“We used those meetings as an opportunity to get all our PEF nurses to attend and talk about our issues and focus on the money due to us,” Silsby said.
Silsby said the nurses felt empowered because they knew PEF had their backs. “They were aware I had contacted President Spence and that the staff at PEF headquarters was already in crisis management mode.”
There are 750 PEF-represented nurses who work at Roswell, so Silsby and union stewards created a “communication train” throughout the institute to get the word out.
The first meeting was attended by nurses who worked the night shift, and for some it was a 13-hour shift. The day shift, just arriving to work, also joined in.
“They were really loud, riled and some were stamping their feet. I came in the meeting which was already in progress,” Silsby said. “I knew we should remain professional, and take it to the next level so management would know we were serious. The nurses focused and maintained professionalism. I was very proud of them. They effectively communicated with several of our top level management to say, ‘PEF negotiated this money for us and who are you to take it away?’
“That was the attitude we took, and the nurses made a lot of comments to support that attitude.”
The attendance at the meetings was high, until the third session when one of Roswell’s directors said there would be no discussion about the money issue. The nurses walked out, and approximately seven attended the next one.
Two local TV stations also reported on the dispute at Roswell, mainly focusing on Roswell’s management initially refusing to comment.
Within 48 hours, a video was made available to the staff from Candace Johnson, Roswell’s president and CEO, and Shirley Johnson, senior vice president of nursing and patient care, and chief nursing officer. Both managers praised the work of the nurses citing their value to Roswell, and announced the decision to restore the retroactive pay.
“This really was a challenge, and all of us at Roswell are grateful to PEF and the leadership of President Spence, for helping us to rise to this challenge,” Silsby said. “We stuck together and this is truly a prime example of ‘together we win.’”
The video from Roswell Park management is available to view at