Union Workers March in Harlem to Protest Job Cuts
By Jeff Mays
HARLEM—More than 200 union workers marched from the defunct North General Hospital to Harlem Hospital Friday to protest layoffs of union employees.
Workers from Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents Metropolitan Transit Authority employees and Local 1199 S.E.I.U, which represented workers at North General, say that union workers are under attack.
With chants of "What's Disgusting? Union Busting," workers said everyone from transit riders to the patients North General served are being hurt by cuts to the union workforce. The MTA has eliminated about 3,000 positions this year, including toll booth clerks and bus drivers.
"It's disgusting for the patients because they were used to us," said Josette Melendez, 38, a medical assistant at North General for 11 years. "I lost my job with four days' notice, no vacation and no severance pay initially."
North General announced in late June that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. North General Hospital Chairman Rev. Calvin Butts said the hospital, which closed July 2, has been struggling since its inception in 1979.
Gov. David Paterson brokered a deal that will bring in a primary care clinic as well as a city nursing home and long-term rehabilitaiton facility to the site at E. 122nd Street and Madison Avenue.
Local 1199 S.E.I.U says that the Institute for Family Health, which will run the primary care clinic, will not hire many of North General's former workers.
Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who is running for the 15th district Congressional seat held by incumbent Charlie Rangel, said both Butts and Rangel "sold the community out" by not protecting the union workers at North General.
"They don't know the patients and they don't know the community," Powell said of new clinic workers.
A spokesperson for the Institute for Family Health could not be reached for comment.
Nyoka Mckenzie, 28, a home health aide from the Bronx, said she and her daughter had to scramble to fnd new doctors when North General closed.
"I've been coming here for 8 years and they all know me," Mckenzie said after recognizing Melendez and giving her a hug and a kiss. "I want them back working here and for them to be paid fairly."