Janitorial staff at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx files class action lawsuit over refusal to pay overtime

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Cleaning staff who previously worked at the massive Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx have announced a class action lawsuit against the hospital seeking damages, including back pay for overtime they worked without compensation .

Campus of MMC Bronx Norwood Montefiore Medical Center as seen from North Central Bronx Hospital on March 20, 2018 [Photo by Hugo L. González / CC BY-SA 4.0]

According to a report on the Gothamist website, the lawsuit names two plaintiffs, but is seeking class action status to cover at least 200 others. One of the nominees, Danny Cruz, worked at the hospital for about five years, ending last month from 4 p.m. to midnight. He said he often worked the next day from 7 a.m. and often racked up 80 hours a week. State and federal laws mandate time-and-a-half overtime pay beyond 40 hours, but Montefiore cleaning staff say they’ve never seen it.

The workers were employed by an outside agency, CSS Building Solutions, based in New Jersey. While this agency was responsible for issuing paychecks, Montefiore was jointly responsible for their employment. They wore Montefiore uniforms to work and received their work orders and instructions from hospital management.

The use of outside contractors for minimum wage jobs has become extremely widespread in recent years, not only in hospitals but also in universities and offices of all kinds. Institutions that enjoy nonprofit status are particularly keen to use such arrangements, which they sometimes invoke to evade responsibility for wages and working conditions, while saving millions by outsourcing work to contractors. companies that pay minimum wage or less.

Gothamist quoted an attorney for the plaintiff, Lou Pechman: “We’ve seen a trend in the New York metro area where hospitals are hiring so-called ‘contractors’ to do the dirty work in their institutions while paying these essential workers below standard wages and no overtime.”

Montefiore Medical Center has grown several times its original size in recent decades. It only served the northern part of the Bronx. Over the past few years, it has purchased and acquired many smaller facilities, an expansion that has accelerated over the past decade. It now includes 13 hospitals and 300 outpatient facilities in the Bronx and surrounding suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties in northern and western New York. It serves about a third of the population of the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough.

The current CEO of Montefiore Medicine is Philip Ozuah, pediatrician. Montefiore Medicine is an umbrella organization that includes all of the above hospitals and outpatient facilities. Ozuah was hired two years ago, but before that he was the CEO of Montefiore Health System, one of the constituents of Montefiore Medicine. In his last year before his promotion to CEO of the entire system, his compensation was $13 million. His predecessor as CEO of Montefiore Medicine, Steven Safyer, received $8 million at the same time. These numbers demonstrate that while the hospital can be classified as a nonprofit, its pay structure at the top mirrors that of corporate America.

The hospital system in the United States is divided into three broad categories: public institutions, whether municipal, state, or federal (including veterans); huge for-profit chains, like Hospital Corporation of America, Tenet Healthcare and many others, which have seen massive growth over the past few decades; and institutions like Montefiore, sometimes called voluntary hospitals, which are privately run and not-for-profit.

The modes of operation of the so-called associations have become almost identical to those of the for-profit chains. They are beholden to giant banks and wealthy bondholders, and they pay their top directors obscene salaries, as well as other forms of remuneration, which they say are necessary to compete for talent – in d’ other terms to attract executives who can earn millions in the private sector. sector.

The expansion of the Montefiore system, like that of other medical centers, has been accompanied by cost-cutting measures that have affected patient care as well as the working conditions of staff, as evidenced by the walkout of nurses from Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital in December 2020.

Patients at the clinic at Montefiore on Fordham Road in the Bronx, which serves a largely immigrant and impoverished neighborhood, were outraged to learn recently that the administration was planning to move the clinic about two and a half miles south. The decision, which was reportedly made on the advice of the gigantic global management firm McKinsey and Company, was aimed at saving on property costs and was made without any input from the community.

In December 2021, nurses in Montefiore in the Bronx protested acute understaffing that leaves patients stranded in the emergency room, sometimes for more than 24 hours, because there aren’t enough nurses on the medical floors. surgical. At that time, nurses said they cared for 15, 20 or more patients in the emergency room, instead of the usually acceptable number of five or six.

Additionally, 1199 SEIU, the union that bargains for 78,000 hospital workers in New York, including non-nursing staff at Montefiore, agreed last year to a three-year deal with 3% annual wage increases. , which will leave workers with as much as a 15% reduction in real wages by the end of the contract.

Seventy-five percent of Montefiore’s patients are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, the federal and state programs that benefit retirees and the poor, respectively. The vast majority of the medical center’s revenue comes from government programs, but that has nothing to do with a true quality universal health care system.

Hospitals compete for scarce resources. A sort of revolving door exists between hospital management and local and state politicians, not unlike that between other branches of government and the sectors of the economy they regulate.

Medical centers usually reward politicians for past favors or employ them with the expectation of future favorable treatment. This process is exemplified by former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., whose term ended Dec. 31. Diaz announced less than two months later that he had become vice president of “strategic initiatives” at Montefiore. Another local politician, Marcos Crespo, the former chairman of the Bronx County Democratic Party, also took over as Montefiore’s vice chairman. City and statea print and online journal specializing in New York politics, reported that State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, also of the Bronx, was an old friend and colleague of Diaz, and with Diaz on the list hospital payroll, one would expect him to look more favorably on Montefiore. Needs. City and state also reported that while he was borough president, Diaz made approximately $1.2 million in discretionary funding available to Montefiore.

These arrangements are integral to how the capitalist system allocates the resources of the shrinking social safety net. While unlimited billions for war in Ukraine and even larger billions for war preparation with China are appropriate without a doubt, decent wages and legally mandated overtime for poorly paid hospital workers cannot be found. Only a socialist health care system, fully financed and controlled by the working class, can remedy this state of affairs.

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