By MIKE LEE
While the old adage is “justice delayed is justice denied,” the spirit of fighting relentlessly for what is right concluded with a considerable victory for three SSEU Local 371 members with the settlement of a grievance over management’s abuse of standby time.
Health+Hospitals workers assigned to an Assertive Community Treatment program at Jacobi and North Central Bronx hospitals filed the grievance. The program provides mobile intensive treatment and support to clients diagnosed with severe mental illness and addiction issues who were unsuccessful in traditional treatment. By providing community-based treatment services, team members work toward improving the client’s quality of life within the community and thus reduce the need for inpatient care.
Victor Chavez and William Rivera serve as Addiction Counselors Level II while Angel Serrano is a Peer Counselor Level II. While doing their duties, the three members were on “standby time,” monitoring their cell phones to cover emergency calls on a seven-day rotating schedule.
For many years, Health+Hospitals did not compensate them for their time monitoring calls.
“This was a violation of the citywide contract,” said Alexander Elias, a Grievance Rep in DC 37’s Professional and Healthcare Division who filed the case in 2014. “If these workers are on a set schedule, given a cell phone, and must respond to these calls after work hours, they are working. This was going on for quite a while before this was brought to my attention.”
At the initial filing, the grievance was denied, with Health+Hospitals claiming that cell phones were a part of their employment requirements.
However, there were no terms or conditions of employment mandating a worker to be on 24-hour standby for emergency calls, according to Elias. He filed another grievance, this time leading to arbitration and several hearings.
“The arbitrator clearly explained to us, ‘Be concise. Be factual. But remember, I can only compare what you’re saying to the contract’s language.’”
The arbitrator encouraged Health+Hospitals to negotiate with the union.
After the last of the three arbitration hearings, both sides began negotiating. Finally, Health+Hospitals agreed to pay the three members five hours per week of the time they were on the rotation, averaging their hourly wage. Chavez, Rivera, and Serrano were individually awarded between $2,500 and $4,600 covering the period from
2015 to 2019.
The union never debated the need for cell phones because the clients the members dealt with had mental health concerns and substance abuse issues, and there was a need for the 24-hour rotating system.
“This stressful work, and the likelihood of handling late-night emergency calls from at-risk community members always requires suitable compensation,” said Local 371 President Anthony Wells. “We remained undeterred and fought until we reached a fair agreement.”
Elias said that in the labor world, union members are the center of DC 37’s purpose.
“Let it be known that we work for you. The system is imperfect, and refinement continues. However, this win echoes the historic labor cry of a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” Elias said.