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Medical Center Workers Rally Against Future Cuts

VALHALLA, N.Y. – Hundreds of registered nurses and civil service workers occupied the grounds of the Westchester Medical Center Monday in a rally against potential layoffs and cuts in benefits.

Vanessa Gorbea, a registered nurse at the center for the past 10 years, said the nurses are fed up with the medical center's negotiation tactics. The hospital and unions for the nurses and civil service workers are involved contract negotiations.

“I knew there would be a great turnout today," Gorbea said. "Everyone is just fed up and we know that there are strength in numbers.”

Messages left with representative at the Westchester Medical Center were not returned.

The nurses association was joined by the Civil Service Employees Association.  The rally comes after the medical center announced that a total of 650 hospital employees would be laid off due to budget cuts, including 250 registered nurses, 19 percent of the total current nursing staff.  The current contract of the registered nurses is set to expire and workers have until Dec. 8 to strike a deal, and Samuel Caquias, president of the local bargaining unit for the New York State Nurses Association.

Caquias said the medical center is seeking to cut health benefits of members kept on staff and that these cuts could affect the overall quality of the center.

“The potential actions, layoff of the staff, especially the nurses will directly impact the level of care that the public has become accustomed to at the Westchester Medical Center,” said Caquias, a registered nurse at the medical center’s trauma center.

Workers held signs that stated “These Cuts Won’t Heal” and waved noise makers as they circled the grounds behind the center’s main building. Two large inflatable rats were placed on the open field with signs placed on them that said Michael Israel, CEO of the medical center, and Mark Tulis, chair of the Board of Directors. Westchester County Police was present to moderate the rally.

Billy Riccaldo, president of the Southern Region CSEA, said the rally was important to show the impact of what the potential layoffs could mean.

“We want the people of the medical center to see that we’re the people that work here and that these are the people that make this place run every day,” Riccaldo said.

Caquias and Riccaldo both said the two groups were scheduled to meet with members of the medical center in order to negotiate a new contract deal Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.  Riccaldo said he wasn’t very optimistic that a deal could be resolved any time soon.

“If they want to sit down and work something out I think we can make a deal but I’m not betting on it given our past relationship,” Riccaldo said.

As recent as 2003-04, around 200 registered nurses were laid off from the medical center in staff cuts.

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