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Gouverneur hospital will recognize unions

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GOUVERNEUR — Gouverneur Hospital will recognize the two unions at E.J. Noble Hospital when it takes over operations, but there are no guarantees how many employees — who must apply for their jobs — it will hire.

Union members met with hospital officials Tuesday.

“They say they’re expecting to negotiate a contract with both unions,” said Kathy M. Tucker, Service Employees International Union Local 1199 vice president.

That has always been the position of the hospital, spokeswoman Rebecca J. Faber said.

Negotiations will be initiated by the human resources director of Gouverneur Hospital, the entity expected to take over the assets of E.J. Noble once the state Department of Health issues a certificate of need and the arrangement is approved in state Supreme Court.

The certificate of need already has passed through one committee review, Ms. Faber said.

Under the plan, Gouverneur Hospital would have a parent organization — St. Lawrence Health System — along with Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, which manages E.J. Noble. Because E.J. Noble would dissolve, all of its contracts, including those with SEIU and the New York State Nurses Association, no longer would exist.

E.J. Noble Hospital employees have received Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notices — required by the U.S. Department of Labor when a facility closes — informing them their jobs will terminate at the end of December.

The number of jobs available at Gouverneur Hospital remains unknown.

“We don’t have that answer yet,” Ms. Faber said. “We hope and expect to provide the majority of services we have now.”

SEIU Local 1199 represents 99 employees at the hospital. Before the Health Department shut down E.J. Noble’s lab Sept. 28, 2012, for deficiencies, the union represented 135 employees.

The hospital, which has been financially troubled for years, has struggled to get back on its feet.

Changes that have been made or that are pending include designation as a critical access hospital to increase reimbursement from Medicare, the return to the in-house laboratory of a number of its functions, an improved operating room open for some procedures, and the introduction of a primary care clinic.

Dr. John A. Lovier Jr., a board-certified OB/GYN specialist, has joined Canton-Potsdam Hospital and also will provide women’s wellness and perinatal care at E.J. Noble. Dr. Lovier will perform minor surgeries at E.J. Noble and more complicated procedures at Canton-Potsdam.

Regardless of strides that have been made, E.J. Noble employees fear some jobs will be eliminated under the hospital’s reorganization plan. Morale is terrible, Ms. Tucker said.

“People are afraid if they do anything, they won’t get hired,” she said. “We have people who are in tears out of fear they won’t get hired. It’s very stressful.”

Union representatives have been told jobs will be awarded on the basis of background checks, drug testing, reviews of personnel files, evaluations and work records.

New employees will have a hire date of Jan. 1 but will have seniority from when they first started working at E.J. Noble, Ms. Tucker said.

“We just don’t know what that seniority will mean,” she said.

Union members were told Gouverneur Hospital wants to negotiate contracts in conformity with those at Canton-Potsdam Hospital in terms of wage structures and benefits, but it remains unclear whether that will benefit previous employees of E.J. Noble.

“We’re negotiating a contract right now at Canton-Potsdam, so it’s hard to say,” Ms. Tucker said. “It’s all very ambiguous.”

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