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Pay justice for two SSEU Local 371 members

After years of performing out-of-title work, Lisa Harris (l.) and Terry Smith (r.), Addiction Counselors at Metropolitan Hospital, won upgrades and back pay thanks to the hard work of Profesional Division grievance rep Alexander Elias (center).

Being forced to do work beyond your job title and pay grade is bad enough. It’s unconscionable when it goes on for years. This was the case for two SSEU Local 371 members who work at Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan.

“I’ve been working for the city for the last 10 years, and I’ve been working out of title for the last 10 years,” said Lisa Harris, then an Addiction Counselor Level I at Metropolitan. She, along with Terry Smith work in the Inpatient Detox Unit.

Addiction Counselors are vital members of the frontline treatment team within the hospital’s Substance Abuse Services unit. These hardworking Local 371 members serve as primary counselors to patients, engaging in diagnostic treatment and consultation activities.

“Being counselors, we all do the same work. No one does anything different,” said Harris. “We all see patients regardless of status, whether they have mental illness or if it’s just a substance abuse issue, we all see the same patients.”

However, as Alexander Elias, grievance rep at the union’s Professional Division points out, the hospital erred in assigning the same work of Level II Counselors to Smith and Harris, who then were Level I

“The treatment team are both Addiction Counselors Level I and II, but each have clear role expectations and separate duties.” Elias said. “Smith and Harris were compelled by the hospital to complete identical tasks, sharing the workload of their Level II coworkers without just compensation.”

Weary and frustrated at what was happening to them, they went to the union for help, and filed a Step 1 grievance in February 2017.

“I’m just glad that Alex was made aware of our situation. He took the necessary steps needed for us to get the pay we deserved for doing the same job at Metropolitan,” said Harris.

But it was a tough journey for the members and their rep.

“At the Step 1 conference the department head was obstinate and refused to settle. Fortunately, our members have the right to appeal, so we pushed forward,” said Elias.

“We went through every step, and they denied us until we got to the third step,” said Harris.

Their determination and patience paid off as NYC Health+Hospitals relented after considering the outcome of a possible arbitration. The union and NYC H+H signed a stipulation in June.

The members were upgraded to their Level II title, which included a $4,000 wage increase, as well as one year of retroactive pay.

Harris was grateful for the services the union provided to her and her coworker Terry Smith.

“Alex is the best,” she said. “He knows his job inside out, and he should be rewarded for all he has done over the years by helping people when they put their grievances in, because he really knows his job.”

“It was my pleasure to represent these members, who were patient and encouraging every step of the way,” said Elias.

“Our determination and endurance paid off!” said SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells. “Our members matter. We will continue the fight for workplace safety and equality.”