Justice for service workers at the University of Rochester


Please support the service workers of the University of Rochester by sending a message to UR President Joel Seligman.  Go to:
Read one typical worker’s family story.  Click on “TAKE ACTION” and fill out the form at the bottom of the page. Your support can make the difference in helping these workers live decent lives.
Thank you in advance.


Contract negotiations.  Negotiations for new labor contracts between the University of Rochester (UR) and its service employees have been going on since late summer.  The workers are represented by an elected 28 employee committee and assisted by union staff representatives.  UR management is represented by human resources officials and select department heads.  Service employees have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with UR since the mid-1970s.  The most recent agreement expired on September 22, 2012, and has since been extended twice while talks continued.  A Federal Mediator is supervising the negotiations.

The workers.  Approximately 1800 employees are covered by these two collective bargaining agreements at UR.  They work in the UR Medical Center’s Strong Memorial Hospital division and on UR campuses. They perform duties as environmental service workers, patient care technicians, nursing unit secretaries, surgical associates, materials processing specialists, drivers, food service workers, and in other support functions.  They are members of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and SEIU Local 200United.  They negotiate with UR as a single group.  The workforce is made up predominantly of people of color.  Most live within the City of Rochester.

The employer.  The University of Rochester is the region’s largest employer, and the seventh largest private sector employer in New York State.  UR is one of the top research institutions in the United States.  It is ranked 33rd in total Federal research dollars received and 13th on a per faculty basis.  Much of its Federal funding comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Energy.  UR has embarked on a $1.2 billion fund raising effort from private donors.  Earlier this year, it passed the 70% benchmark toward its goal.  Recently, UR related developers received a $20 million loan, a joint Federal and City of Rochester initiative, toward its $100 million college town project.  Strong is one of the most profitable hospitals in New York.

The issues in dispute.  The service workers are seeking to maintain a living wage and to keep their health care benefits.  The average wage of a full-time service worker at UR is $27,900.  With the Federal poverty rate for a family of four at $23,050, these workers are literally only four and one-half biweekly paychecks away from poverty.  For over 35 years, the workers have been covered by a comprehensive health benefits plan sponsored by the union.  They also have training, educational, and child care benefits provided by union related programs.  Although workers pay no health insurance premiums for their coverage, they are charged typical out-of-pocket costs for services.  Over the years, union negotiators have made access to and use of health  care and wellness services a top priority, and kept the plan free to employees at the   expense of larger wage increases.  

UR is seeking to end the workers’ health plan and substitute an alternative  plan that would cost the workers over $2500 more, deducted from their pay, for a family plan with less coverage than their current benefit.  Prices for single coverage would be less but would still have a devastating effect on the workers’ standard of living, which already borders on poverty.  Some workers may be forced to choose between their take home pay and health insurance coverage.

We don’t know why the UR is acting this way.

All we know is that we must resist.  Our families’ livelihood is at stake.  So is the health of our community.  Cuts in our take home pay would negatively impact City neighborhoods, a further hit that we could ill afford.

We want to remind UR officials what President Roosevelt said about how the nation is to be judged:

      “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin Roosevelt
Second Inaugural Address
January 20, 1937

And of Dr. King’s words:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Speech to the Medical Committee on Human Rights
March 25, 1966

For further information, or to find out how you can help, please call 1199 SEIU at (585) 244-0830, or email:

 Bruce Popper  bruce.popper@1199.org
Larry Knox  larry.knox@1199.org
Tracey Harrison  tracey.harrison@1199.org