Dozens of health care workers and their supporters took to the picket line outside Elmhurst Hospital last week to demand a fair union contract for the seven full-time midwives who work at the facility.
“We happily worked through the pandemic with all of the positive moms and babies,” said Keeley McNamara, who has been a midwife at Elmhurst Hospital for the past 10 years. “We changed our schedules, we rearranged everything in our lives and some of us got COVID, yet we continue to work without a contract.
“We are only asking for parity with other HHC hospitals so that we can hire and retain good midwives and continue to serve the community we love,” she added.
Midwives at Elmhurst Hospital Center, who are health care professionals trained to assist women in childbirth, are part of the Mount Sinai Health System.
The group unanimously decided to join the New York State Nurses Association two-and-a-half years ago, but they say the hospital network has refused to negotiate a fair contract, leaving them overworked and underpaid.
“This community was the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, one of several elected officials who attended the rally last Wednesday to support the cause. “We opened our windows and banged our pots and pans to thank our essential workers, yet our midwives were working overtime with lesser pay literally saving lives every day. They are our heroes and ‘she-roes’ and we demand equity.”
Jonathan Forgash, co-founder of Queens Together, an organization that provided meals to Elmhurst Hospital staff and its midwives since early April 2020, said he joined the picket line because he knows firsthand about the sacrifices that were made by the midwives during the pandemic.
“Keeley lives in the same apartment building as me and my family,” he said. “When the midwives were switched from maternity to COVID patient care, we saw her come home to her family exhausted every night.
“We heard stories about their work and care for those sick and dying,” Forgash continued. “We heard stories about insufficient PPE or none at all. I knew we needed to show them some love, that people were grateful for their personal sacrifice and care.”
Elmhurst Hospital’s chief midwife Margaret Re, who has been working for the facility for more than 20 years, said she contracted COVID at the hospital during the pandemic but returned to work as soon as she was able.
She admits the hours are grueling, but said she does what she does for the community she is committed to serving.
“Why is it so difficult?” asked Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. “Mount Sinai should be at the table in good faith listening to the needs of folks who, quite frankly, are serving a community that is making [Mount Sinai’s] pockets pretty rich.
Yet they don’t want to talk about giving this amazing team of midwives their just due,” she added. “We are not asking for much. We are simply asking that they get the dignity, the respect, and the money they deserve.”