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As Nurses Vote on Possible Strike, Health Benefits Lapse

About 500 healthcare workers at Brooklyn Hospital could walk-out on the job as early as Sept. 13.

Nurses at Brooklyn Hospital Center  late Friday as contract negotiations between management and the employees union hit a brick wall. 

On Sunday, healthcare coverage for around 500 nurses and their families was allowed to lapse after the hospital refused to sign a 60-day benefit extension, according to the union representing the employees, The New York State Nurses Association.

The nurses have been working since last December without a new contract.

The dispute centers over management's proposal to raise the effective retirement age for nurses from 60 to 65.  also demanded that nurses contribute more to their healthcare plan. 

Currently, nurses at the hospital can retire early at age 60 and receive full pension benefits. According to union reps involved in the negotiations, management proposed to raise the age to 65 and reduce monthly payments from the pension fund for retired employees across the board.

"It’s clear to me that the nurses are going to push back to protect their pension agreements," said local union representative Elaine Charpentier on Friday as the clock continued to tick down to a 11 p.m. strike vote deadline. "We’re confident that we will prevail.”

If the nurses vote to strike, their union would by law have to give the hospital 10 days notice before any walk-out to ensure continuity of patient care. 

Brooklyn Hospital, which is affiliated with the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, did not return requests for comment on the ongoing contract negotiations and lapse in employee healthcare benefits.

The fight over pensions at Brooklyn Hospital mirrored those across the public and private sector in recent months, with many companies and local governments claiming that cuts needed to be made to ensure the viability of the retirement system in tough economic times.

But members of the nurses union claimed it wasn't a lack of funds that had hospital management demanding deep cuts to their retirement plans.

"They are saying that they are choosing to spend their money in other ways," Charpentier said. 

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