Union representing Potsdam LPNs, techs criticizes St. Lawrence Health System for Massena deal
Friday, August 9, 2019 - 5:27 pm

POTSDAM -- The union representing licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and techs at Canton-Potsdam Hospital on Friday released a statement criticizing St. Lawrence Health System for planning to spend $8 million at Massena Memorial while offering a health insurance package the union says is too expensive.

On July 10, over 240 healthcare workers represented by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, voted to reject a tentative agreement reached with management, according to an Aug. 9 news release from the union.

“Since returning to the bargaining table, St. Lawrence Health System, currently in the processes of taking over Massena Hospital and granting them $8 million (a fact that didn’t come out until after the vote was held), has refused to make any movement,” the union’s release said.

On July 30, both the Massena town and hospital boards voted to begin the process of selling Massena Memorial to SLHS, which runs Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals. The deal calls for SLHS to assume liability for MMH’s debts, which will be paid with a $20 million grant from the state, and SLHS will invest up to $8 million in the hospital. It’s not yet clear how that $8 million will be spent.

More information about the deal is here.

“The increases to our family health insurance premiums are unaffordable for most of us, they are even more than the raises we would get,” Dana Thomas, a MRI technologist at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, said in a prepared statement from the union. “How can we ever get ahead if our entire wage increases have to go directly to our health insurance costs? We don’t want to move backward.”

“As a Massena resident I am grateful that help is being provide to Massena Memorial Hospital,” said Nancy Guyette, an oncology pharmacy tech at SPH said in a prepared statement from the union. “However, if Canton Potsdam Hospital can afford to give $8 Million to them, surely they are able to provide affordable family health insurance and cost of living raises for the dedicated employees that have been here all along.”

The 1199 SEIU release included statements of support from local politicians as well:

“The healthcare workers of this county care for our communities when we are ill, injured, when we are in our darkest days. They provide this care with competency and compassion. All healthcare workers deserve the access to quality, affordable health insurance for themselves and their families so that they may acquire the same level of care that they give and continue to do their jobs effectively.” - St. Lawrence County Legislator Nance Arquiett, D-Winthrop, said in a statement from the union.

“Healthcare workers play a vital role in the well-being of our society. Ensuring wages that allow them to cover the cost of their own health insurance premiums should be a priority, especially in the medical field where these workers risk their own health and safety every day to protect and care for their patients. Offering wages just at or above minimum wage makes it impossible for these dedicated workers to afford health insurance premiums for themselves and their families. It is our responsibility to make sure that the people that have chosen to care for us in our time of need have the means to take care of themselves, and this can happen with a fair contract,” St. Lawrence County Legislator Nicole Terminelli, D-Massena, said in prepared remarks.

“I hope management will return to the negotiating table. 1199SEIU, like any union, has a ratification process and has a right to vote on a contract and they can vote to turn the contract down,” Ron McDougall, president of Central Trades and mayor of the Village of Gouverneur, said in a prepared statement.