No pact, no benefits, law-breaking force Mt. Sinai Hospital strike
Post doc workers walk off the job at Mt. Sinai. | Photo courtesy of UAW

NEW YORK—Earlier this year, Jessica Wang was forced into an impossible choice: Her baby or her career.

“I was forced to choose between my baby and doing research that furthers science and my career,” she told the Auto Workers, who represent her and 500 other postdocs at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital’s medical school.

“I chose my baby. But no one should have to make that choice.

“I had to give up my career as a scientist, My PI lost her leading researcher in the lab, and Sinai lost the discoveries I may have been able to make in my research project.”

In these days when lawmakers keep agitating for paid medical and family leave, no one should be faced with that.

But Wang, now a former post-doctoral cardio-pulmonary researcher, had to make that choice and sacrifice her career.

Why? Wang, and Sinai’s members of UAW, don’t have a first contract after more than a year of bargaining with hospital bosses.

And when Wang called its HR department on her own before leaving, to ask about Sinai’s paid family and medical leave, much less paid maternity leave, the answer was a blunt “no.”

The hospital doesn’t offer its postdocs paid family and medical leave and refuses to do so.

It’s attitudes like that—and management intransigence on everything from access to lower-cost on-campus housing to refusing to provide company-paid child care—that led the fed-up postdocs out on strike on December 6.

And since the bosses won’t bargain, this isn’t just any economic strike, but one over their multiple instances of labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices. That means, the union says, the strike—which opened with a picket line at East 99th St and Madison Avenue in Manhattan—will continue until the hospital settles.

The strike joins the Sinai postdocs to the growing legions of exploited, ill-paid, mistreated, and oppressed workers—fast food workers, retail workers, adjunct professors, graduate RAs and TAs, port truckers, and warehouse workers—who in the past two or more years have taken to the streets and to joining unions, saying “We’ve had it up to here” with corporate greed and the ultrarich class leeching off their efforts and productivity, leaving them little.

But it’s not just a matter of parents, especially mothers, and children. It’s much more, says their UAW union, the SPOC-UAW.

“Sinai has illegally threatened international workers, made unilateral changes to housing practices” and slowly and grudgingly handed over information the union needs to bargain, SPOC-UAW said in announcing the picketing.

It also warned its members, in its first morning picketing notice, of yet another pressure tactic by Sinai bosses.

“We are aware Sinai has circulated a form asking for information on postdocs working schedules. This is a unilateral change to working conditions,” which is another labor law violation. “We issued a demand to Sinai to cease this requirement and bargain over the change.”

“Sinai has rejected proposals to offer childcare subsidies so parents can afford to stay on the job, and to extend access to campus housing, even as New York City’s housing crisis worsens.”

“We love our work, and did not want to strike,” said ob-gyn post-doc Andrea Joseph and a member of the SPOC-UAW bargaining team. “But after more than a year of bargaining in which Sinai has behaved unlawfully, we have to stand up for ourselves.

“Sinai’s current policies make it nearly impossible to both afford childcare and live in New York City. They hold out a ‘Need Not Apply’ sign to single mothers, parents, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

They have already forced too many people—like Wang—off their career paths simply because they cannot afford to participate. Our goal is to make Sinai a more equitable place to work, and that is what we will insist on.”

“Postdocs make essential contributions to the world-class research conducted at Mount Sinai, but many of us still struggle to pay high housing and other costs in New York City, lack secure rights in the workplace, and face increasing uncertainty about our futures given the precarious nature of science funding and unstable regulation of visas and work authorization in recent years,” the union’s mission statement elaborates.

“We join a growing national movement of researchers and other academics forming unions with the UAW to improve our lives and our work.” The union says UAW postdocs and grad student workers nationally advocate not just for themselves but for science research, fair immigration policies “and better working conditions in all academic institutions.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.