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Unions picket E.J. Noble Hospital

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GOUVERNEUR — Members of New York State Nurses Association and their supporters picketed E.J. Noble Hospital on Monday, asking for more information from the hospital about its dissolution plan and how it will affect them.

Under the plan, E.J. Noble would dissolve and its assets would be sold to a new entity, Gouverneur Hospital. Gouverneur Hospital would fall under the umbrella — along with Canton-Potsdam Hospital — of another new organization, St. Lawrence Health System. Canton-Potsdam Hospital has a management agreement with E.J. Noble.

The plan would include the elimination of all of E.J. Noble’s contracts, including those with the unionized nurses and Service Employees International Union Local 1199.

All employees interested in working at Gouverneur Hospital would have to apply for the jobs they had with E.J. Noble.

“I would like for all of us to be kept on, with all of our seniority,” said Carrie A. Foster, vice chairwoman of the local bargaining unit of NYSNA. “There are so many unanswered questions. They expect and hope we would keep the same services, but they don’t know.”

Local 1199 had a separate informational rally in the village park.

NYSNA’s contract with E.J. Noble is expired while Local 1199 has a contract with the hospital until April, which does not allow it to picket without a 10-day notice.

“Our members are not happy. They’re upset,” Local 1199 Vice President Kathy M. Tucker said. “They’re poor enough as it is. I want them not to have people reapply for their jobs.”

Ms. Tucker said E.J. Noble’s planned dissolution does not preclude the plan from keeping its employees certain about their status.

“My feeling is we’re going to fight as hard as we can so that people don’t have to reapply for their own jobs,” she said. “It’s just mean. It makes no sense whatsoever. They ought to be spending their money on the workers. Shame on them.”

Ms. Tucker scoffed at Canton-Potsdam Hospital Administrator David B. Acker’s earlier statement that the dissolution plan was not a way to achieve a non-union workforce.

“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...,” Ms. Tucker said.

The goal is to have the unions recognized, said Annie M. Rutsky, labor relations representative with NYSNA.

NYSNA’s contract with E.J. Noble expired in December. It had two contract extensions, the last of which expired July 31, Ms. Rutsky said.

“There was so much turmoil it didn’t make a lot of sense to negotiate,” she said.

The contract had a successor clause that called for a new buyer to accept all its employees, but there is uncertainty over whether that would apply if E.J. Noble were to shut down first and then sell its assets to itself as Gouverneur Hospital.

Although contributions made to employees’ pension plans are secure, there is no certainty E.J. Noble’s successor will continue to offer a plan under which it makes contributions, Ms. Tucker said.

Rebecca J. Faber, spokeswoman for both Canton-Potsdam Hospital and E.J. Noble, did not return a call.

Nurses want to continue to work at the hospital so they can take care of the people they know, Ms. Rutsky said.

They began circulation Monday of a community petition to the E.J. Noble board to reconsider terminating employees.

“While we recognize the need to reorganize the hospital so it will become financially viable, we see no reason to fire all of its dedicated employees,” the petition reads in part. “Those employees are members of our community and definitely do not deserve to be treated this way. Not guaranteeing current, long term dedicated employees their jobs will diminish the quality of care that our hospital is able to provide.”

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who came to support the community, said she was concerned about the ongoing instability at the hospital.

“I’d really like for the hospital to work with the employees in a more open fashion,” she said. “I think there needs to be a lot more information going back and forth.”

Questions from the unions reflect the concerns of the community, and the hospital needs to explain how dissolution will make it more sustainable, Mrs. Russell said.

“It would be helpful if there was a lot more dialogue,” she said.

Requiring E.J. Noble employees to apply for jobs with Gouverneur Hospital is insulting, said Gregory P. Hart, the regional director of the Workforce Development Institute.

“It’s kind of a slap in their face, all the years of commitment they’ve given,” he said.

The Workforce Development Institute wants to help, such as with long-term employees who might need help brushing up on their resume skills.

“We want to bring some resources here,” he said.

About two dozen pickets marched in front of the hospital. A similar number was in the park for the Local 1199 rally, Ms. Tucker said.

Some nurses carried cardboard tubes made to look like a roll of Life Savers, the candy that Edward John Noble — the businessman and benefactor for whom the hospital was named — made famous.

“What would E.J. Noble think?” read the sign on one of the Life Savers.



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