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Jun 12, 2018 1:37 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Unions Object To Legislation That Would Clear The Way For New Hospital In Southampton

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.  DANA SHAW
Jun 12, 2018 1:50 PM

Fundraising for a new hospital on the Stony Brook Southampton campus might be put on hold, as key legislation clearing the way for the project is stalled in Albany, with state unions working to derail it, concerned about the potential future impact on workers they represent.

Robert Chaloner, chief administrative officer of the hospital, said Thursday, June 7, that State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle had crafted legislation that would allow Stony Brook University to lease the necessary property on campus to the Southampton Hospital Association, to build a new state-of-the-art facility to replace the existing hospital in Southampton Village. That would allow fundraising to begin for the proposed $250 million facility. The goal was to have the measure approved before the end of the 2018 session on June 20.

But a trio of state unions representing workers at hospitals like Stony Brook University Hospital, which is owned and operated by the State University of New York system, have formally opposed the legislation, worried that it might be an attempt to move jobs from the public sector to the private sector.

At issue is the unusual arrangement at the heart of plans for the new hospital, a key to the affiliation agreement between the former Southampton Hospital and the Stony Brook system that was finalized less than a year ago, according to Mr. Chaloner.

Before agreeing to join with Stony Brook, Southampton Hospital officials were adamant that there be some local control over the ownership of the building itself. That concern would carry over to a new $250 million hospital envisioned on the Stony Brook Southampton campus. The Southampton Hospital Association, a nonprofit, would lease about 13 acres of the 82-acre college campus and raise the necessary funds to build a new hospital. Once the new hospital was completed, the association then would lease it back to Stony Brook as the operator. Such an arrangement would allow the local association to keep ownership should Stony Brook ever opt to pull out as operator.

Three state unions—the Civil Service Employees Association, New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation—issued a memo strongly opposing the legislation. Their concerns, Mr. Chaloner said, are rooted in the fact that Southampton Hospital was a private entity, and its workers remain represented by a different union focusing on the private sector, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

“They view this as a private entity coming onto state land,” Mr. Chaloner said last week.

He explained that Southampton Hospital worked to make sure 1199SEIU continued to represent its workers after the affiliation was inked, to protect the employees’ seniority, pensions and health benefits. “We knew that in order to move this deal forward with Stony Brook, we were going to have to preserve the bargaining rights of our employees,” he said.

Should the legislation fail to pass by June 20, it would be shelved until the next legislative session in 2019—and hospital officials would lose a year of fundraising for the hospital.

“We can’t do any planning unless we know we’ve really got a site to plan for,” Mr. Chaloner said. “We want to get started. We’ve been organizing—we’ve got a committee formed. We’re about ready to hire a strategic planner to really dig into the numbers … We’ve got donors saying, ‘Show us something, give us some pictures.’”

Both Mr. Chaloner and Mr. Thiele said union officials had balked, in part, because they saw it as a last-minute push of the legislation—though they both rejected that characterization.

“It’s impossible for me to believe that NYSUT and CSEA weren’t aware that all of this was going on,” Mr. Thiele said, pointing to the extensive five-year process that led to the affiliation in 2017.

“We’re all having a hard time understanding that,” Mr. Chaloner said. “It’s not something we’ve been conducting in secret.”

Mr. Thiele suggested that Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s bid for a lease to clear the way for fundraising was being used as a bargaining chip in a larger battle between the state unions and Stony Brook. “They have a number of grievances with SUNY and Stony Brook,” he said. “They’re using this legislation as a wedge to air those grievances.”

In memorandums opposing legislation to clear the way for a new hospital on the Stony Brook Southampton campus, the unions outlined their concerns.

The CSEA said it was “extremely troubled by the lack of transparency regarding staffing of this new hospital.” Should it be built, the new hospital would be operated by Stony Brook University Hospital, part of the SUNY system, but “most employees” would be hired by an agency that is not subject to civil service law, the memo notes. It adds, “The state must proceed very cautiously when affiliating, taking over or entering a relationship with an existing hospital.”

The affiliation, however, was completed in 2017. Still, the objection echoes concerns voiced then that delayed state approval of the affiliation agreement for years.

NYSUT’s memo notes that the private entity that would staff a new hospital has “a troubling track record,” referencing past financial issues at Long Island College Hospital and SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. That incident in Brooklyn was a tall obstacle for the local affiliation agreement to clear, as SUNY officials were wary of a new affiliation with a private hospital after that deal failed.

The PEF memo noted that nurses would not be employees of SUNY and would continue to be represented by 1199, a union for private hospital workers. According to the PEF, such an arrangement would make it “likely that nurses at the new hospital will not be treated fairly.”

An Albany-based CSEA official on Friday said the union is making a “good-faith effort” to work with all sides to try to address their concerns about legislation that would allow a new hospital to be built on the Stony Brook Southampton campus.

“The devil’s always in the details,” said Fran Turner, director of legislative and political action for the CSEA. “When we saw the details—I don’t believe the locals had the details we have now.”

Local CSEA representatives have been supportive of the plan to lease land on the campus to the Southampton Hospital Association, clearing the way for the association to begin raising private funds to build a new $250 million hospital, which then would be leased back to Stony Brook University Hospital to operate.

Ms. Turner said the issues are “nothing we won’t be able to resolve,” but later sounded less confident: “We’re hoping we are going to be able to resolve it. I don’t know if we have time to resolve it this year.”

The legislation drafted by Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle would need to pass the State Legislature before June 20, the end of the 2018 session.

She said the primary concern was the nature of the relationship between the private Southampton Hospital Association and the Stony Brook University Hospital system, which is part of the State University of New York system. CSEA represents state employees, and Ms. Turner said the concern was the “mixing of state employees and not-for-profit employees,” and the potential impact it could have on CSEA members and the state institutions where they work.

“Everybody worries about their employees,” she said. “State money is not being taken away from state university hospitals. Every year, we fight for funds for state university hospitals.” Of the affiliation agreement, which includes the private Southampton Hospital Association as an element, she added, “There’s always a question of, if they run short of funds, where do the funds come from?”

She acknowledged that there are larger “global issues” with SUNY and “past disagreements” with Stony Brook that are influencing the current dispute: “Certainly, that optic is coming into play, to a certain extent. You want assurances, right? And those assurances have to be somewhat ironclad for us.”

Ms. Turner said CSEA officials are “having conversations” on an ongoing basis with both Mr. LaValle and officials at both SUNY and Stony Brook, including local CSEA chapter leaders. “We want to make sure we get this right,” she said. “I think everybody’s working hard. … I can’t say that we’re comfortable right now, but, hopefully, we’ll get there.”

Mr. Chaloner stressed that the proposed legislation in no way would impact union jobs at the hospital or at Stony Brook.

“We’re supporting the bill,” said Helen Schaub, who is director of policy and legislation for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union that represents 486 nurses, service and maintenance workers, and professional technical workers, the bulk of the staff at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. She said 1199 officials are talking to representatives of the state unions to try to encourage them to reconsider—standing alongside local officials of the state unions at Stony Brook, who support the move as well.

“They have less specific concerns and more general concerns,” she said of the unions’ state leadership. “We think the bill actually does have pretty strong language protecting the public sector workers having their jobs shifted to a private hospital.” She added, “We have no interest in helping state work to be privatized.”

Ms. Schaub agreed that it was possible that the opposition was based not solely on the stated concerns but could be related to larger political issues.

Both Mr. Chaloner and Mr. Thiele noted that the delay is a major concern, and it could have an enormous impact on the success of a fundraising effort for a new hospital.

“For us in the community, it’s going to be hard to raise money for a hospital when you don’t have a lease for the land to build it,” Mr. Thiele said on Thursday. “To me, time is important. I think for the hospital, time is important.”

He added, “This is a $250 million project. It’s going to improve health care on the East End. It’s going to cement the future of the Southampton campus as an educational institution. There are nothing but benefits for the community—and for the unions.”

“We’re trying to do something that I think is really, really good for this community—build a new hospital, rejuvenate the campus,” Mr. Chaloner said.

He noted that though workers at a newly built hospital still would be represented by the 1199, it would spur growth in other areas—faculty and professionals, for instance—that would include members of the state unions. “We’re struggling to understand what the objections are,” he said.

Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle were joined by Mr. Chaloner on Tuesday in Albany in meetings with the state unions to try to address the concerns and remove the roadblock. Mr. Thiele said he and Mr. LaValle are committed to trying to push the legislation through, lobbying their colleagues for support.

But nobody was confident that the matter would be resolved by the end of session in two weeks, with just seven session days remaining.

“I’m not going to say I’m optimistic—that would be overstating it,” Mr. Thiele said, noting that he’s worried that the unions are “running out the clock.” He added, “But I still think there’s a fighting chance.”

“Fred and Ken have put their hearts and souls into making this thing happen,” said an “exasperated” Mr. Chaloner.

Said Ms. Schaub, “There is a chance. We’re talking to everybody. We’re trying to get it over the finish line.”

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Unions are destroying New York. They make gangsters look straight
By chief1 (2452), southampton on Jun 7, 18 9:04 PM
Hyperbole right back at you chief1. Unions make New York wonderful!!! Those opposed to them make Nicky Scarfo look generous!!!! I accidently liked your comment, unfortunately I can't unlike it.

Hyperbole only serves to further divide us, I am a troll for making my above statement.

Unions protect the rights of workers and help to ensure safe working conditions as well as fair compensation. Fred Thiel is a unique and fantastic politician who truly has the best interests of the ...more
By Aeshtron (45), Southampton on Jun 8, 18 10:42 AM
You ever notice that people with high numbers of comments never know what they are talking about? They just talk for the sake of talking.
By deelove (122), Bridgehampton on Jun 8, 18 11:46 AM
2 members liked this comment
Unions, especially public sector unions have long outlived their original purposes. Business owners and taxpayers should not be held hostage to organized crime syndicates and thugs. Compensation and worker's production should be agreed upon between the employer and each individual worker, if the worker is not happy with the terms they are free to work elsewhere, if the employer doesn't offer competitive wages they ill suffer from lack of employees. Thank God the East End is able to function with ...more
By bigfresh (3512), north sea on Jun 8, 18 1:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
let college become a college again. The hospital center should be north of Westhampton where ther is a road sytem to support it. imagine 1200 more people trying to get to work. The existing hospital can feed th new on.

By Obserever (34), Southnampton on Jun 7, 18 9:25 PM
Let me get this straight: The new Southampton Hospital should be build north of Westhampton (in Peconic Bay Medical Center's area) so the people east of the canal from Shinnecock Hills to Montauk should drive back and forth to "north of Westhampton"? is that what you are suggestion?
By Robert I Ross (230), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 18 10:48 AM
A hospital with its own LIRR station and a shuttle bus system would only have a minimal impact on existing traffic.
By Duckbornandraised (175), Eastport on Jun 8, 18 1:49 AM
2 members liked this comment
Suffolk and Nassau County are bankrupt solely because of municipal unions.
By chief1 (2452), southampton on Jun 8, 18 8:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
chief1 -- please provide information about Nassau and Suffolk counties bankruptcies and how municipal unions were the sole cause of these bankruptcies -- this is quite a claim!

It is my understanding that fewer than 100 US municipalities have ever defaulted on their bond obligations for even one day and that it is exceedingly rare (statistically speaking less than 0.25% throughout all of US history) for a US municipality to declare bankruptcy. Neither Nassau nor Suffolk county has ever ...more
By Aeshtron (45), Southampton on Jun 11, 18 2:28 PM
1 member liked this comment
Labor relations people know exactly what this is about. NYSUT represents employees. CSEA represents other employees. A new hospital creates a pool of new jobs that both unions want without even asking the employees if they want a union. Staffing the hospital with employees from a third party (very common today) means these new employees will not fall into either union automatically, like low hanging fruit. That doesn't mean they can't try to organize them, but it means they have to work at it. ...more
By Liman (21), Montauk on Jun 9, 18 3:45 PM
2 members liked this comment
It's NOT new jobs. It is the existing (Stony Brook) Southampton Hospital unionized employees moving into a new building with their current union.
By Robert I Ross (230), Hampton Bays on Jun 9, 18 5:29 PM
2 members liked this comment
Ashton both have over 200 million in deficits and that will go up drastically as more union pensions kick in. That's called being bankrupt.
By chief1 (2452), southampton on Jun 11, 18 5:32 PM
Chief1 -- I Appreciate your thoughtful response that contains two accurate and solid points!

Bankruptcy is a legal term for when an entity can not pay their outstanding debts. Nassau County has a A2 credit rating from Moody's, Suffolk an A3. Neither county is in danger of near-term bankruptcy or has declared bankruptcy at any time in the past.

Chief1 -- you're absolutely correct that both counties have been running a deficit for years now, this could be fiscally concerning but ...more
By Aeshtron (45), Southampton on Jun 12, 18 9:38 AM
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