NYC hospital workers urge employer to drop Waldner’s

Union health care workers at New York Presbyterian Hospital on July 18 rallied to support locked out truck drivers and warehouse workers who are fighting for their jobs.

The truck drivers and warehouse workers work for Waldner’s Business Environments, an office furniture dealer based in Farmingdale, New York.

Waldner’s sells furniture to a number of large institutions in New York City including the City University of New York (CUNY), New York Life, Columbia University, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Estee Lauder, and Spotify.

Waldner’s biggest client is New York Presbyterian Hospital, which operates ten hospitals in the New York metropolitan area.

On July 18, New York Presbyterian nurses, doctors, and other health care workers joined members of Teamsters Local 814 in a rally outside of the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in Upper Manhattan to demand that the hospital stop doing business with Waldner’s until it reinstates the locked out workers and bargains with them in good faith.

“I’ve delivered furniture to New York Presbyterian for nine years,” said Jim Awgul, a truck driver who has worked at Waldner’s for 31 years. “It hurts to see the hospital do nothing while Waldner’s fires me and my coworkers to replace us with cheaper subcontractors. If New York Presbyterian really cares about the community, they won’t do business with a company that is violating our rights.”

A few days before the rally, Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York Nurses Association sent a letter to New York Presbyterian’s CEO urging him “to reconsider your business relationship with this abusive and anti-union employer.”

Waldner’s Business Environments is a third generation woman owned business that by all accounts is a thriving and profitable business.

In its corporate profile, it states that it respects its employees and “encourage(s) growth and advancement while fostering a healthy work-life balance.”

That statement may sound hollow to Kevin Roach, who has worked for Waldner’s for 33 years.

“I don’t know how New York Presbyterian Hospital can stand by while quality health coverage is taken away from the workers delivering its furniture,” said Roach, who is also a Teamsters shop steward. “My son has Down Syndrome and a compromised immune system. My family desperately needs the health care that Waldner’s took away. We need New York Presbyterian’s help, but they are saying it’s not their problem.”

Despite being a profitable business, Waldner’s earlier this year decided to end its relationship with Local 814, fire its 20 full-time and 20 part-time warehouse workers, truck drivers, and helpers, and contract out its delivery services to a lower-wage subcontractor.

When the collective bargaining agreement between the Teamsters and Waldner’s expired on June 30, the workers were thrown out on the street.

But the union and its workers are fighting back.

Their main focus is disrupting the business relationship between Waldner’s and its biggest customer, New York Presbyterian, which touts itself as “providing the highest quality, most compassionate care and service to patients in the New York metropolitan.”

And it’s not just asking politely.

On two separate occasions after the lockout began, construction workers joined Local 814 members to stop Waldner’s from delivering furniture to a New York Presbyterian construction site on the Upper East Side.

“New York Presbyterian Hospital executives should understand that it won’t be business as usual as long as they do business with Waldner’s,” said Jason Ide, president of Local 814. “We aren’t going away. This attack on unions is unprecedented in the furniture industry and if Presbyterian continues to buy from Waldner’s, they are complicit.”

Local 814 is urging the public to support the fired Waldner’s workers and has created a web page, DropWaldners, to provide the public with more information about the lockout.

The web page urges businesses that consider themselves socially responsible to drop their business with Waldner’s because “Waldner’s management walked away from the (bargaining) table after just one session, refused to bargain a new contract, and then locked out their long-time crew of drivers, helpers and warehouse workers.”

Local 814 has also filed an unfair labor practices charge against Waldner’s for failing to bargain in good faith.

The locked out Teamsters have won the support of local elected officials who are urging New York Presbyterian to drop Waldner’s.

“In New York City, we value companies that treat workers with respect. Waldner’s is showing that it does not share those values,” said City Council Member Mark Levine. “New York Presbyterian should drop Waldner’s and use an office furniture company that rewards its long-term employees instead of replacing them.”