Thousands of City Nurses Protest Staffing Levels

"We asked the union representatives for a copy of the contract covering workers at the plant to find out how we could fight the firings, but they said they didn't have it. So we went to the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and filed a complaint against the union."

The union filed a grievance against the firings, but Jayaraman and the sisters were wary of its intentions and declined to attend a hearing on the matter. The arbitration was held without the sisters present, and the arbitrator ruled on October 13 that the firings were justified.

"Since then it has been a year of legal tragedies," said Jayaraman. Because of the arbitrator's finding, the sisters were denied unemployment benefits. An investigation by the state's Division of Human Rights also failed to substantiate the harassment allegations.

Nurses union representatives Ilene Sussman and James Ferris during last week’s protests
photo: Cary Conover
Nurses union representatives Ilene Sussman and James Ferris during last week’s protests

A company spokesman said the women were treated fairly and given an opportunity to go back to work after the fight. "They refused to do so, and they were then terminated," said John Kaley, an attorney for Bonded Brakes. He also said the company never received any complaints of sexual harassment until after the fight. "Everyone who has given these women a fair hearing has rejected their claim," Kaley said.

Union president Vincent Giannini said his organization had worked hard to represent the women. "They lied, lied, lied that we didn't represent them," said Giannini. "We offered them jobs at other shops, which they turned down. We don't know what more they want out of life."

Jayaraman insisted that no other jobs were offered. Since the incident, the Workplace Project has helped form a new organization, the Factory Workers Movement of Long Island, to combat similar cases of harassment. Last week, the group demonstrated in front of Bonded Brakes. "We still have a complaint pending with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission," said Jayaraman. "We're not going to give up on this."

Research assistance: James Wong

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