Thousands of nurses in New York City to strike in pursuit of fair contract
Strike date at seven hospitals set for 9 January after 98.8% vote in favor, with wages, staff ratios and health insurance key issues
At least 12,000 nurses at seven hospitals in New York City are threatening to strike after their union contract expired at the end of last year. A strike date is set for 9 January.
The nurses are pushing for the hospitals to implement and enforce safe staffing ratios, improve wages in line with inflation, and maintain health insurance coverage as opposed to proposed cuts by the hospitals.
Nurses at BronxCare, Montefiore, Mount Sinai hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside and West, New York-Presbyterian and Richmond University medical center voted in favor of a strike authorization with 98.8% voting in support at the end of December 2022.
Another 4,000 nurses at New York Presbyterian reached a tentative agreement on 1 January.
Four additional hospitals, Interfaith medical center, Kingsbrook Jewish medical center, the Brooklyn hospital center, and Wyckoff Heights medical center, representing 1,200 nurses with the New York State Nurses Association are still in the process of voting but are expected to authorize a strike as well.
“Hospital management are the ones that are causing the strike, not the nurses. We are ready to work, ready to negotiate in good faith. All they have to do is to give us a fair contract,” said Nancy Hagans, NYSNA president and frontline nurse at Maimonides medical center. “You have some of the richest hospitals in the world where the CEOs are making $10m a year. They are working through Zoom. We are here every day on a day-to-day basis putting our lives at risk at the height of the pandemic and yet they are telling us that pretty much they don’t need us.”
Hagans said New York state had passed a bill to implement safe staffing ratios across the state in 2021, but the legislation is not yet being enforced, meaning nurses have to do more with less staff and resources.
“I’ve heard hospital administration saying that there’s a shortage of nurses. It’s not a shortage. They have failed to retain nurses and they’re not just failing us, they are failing our patients, they are failing the community, because you cannot expect a nurse to take care of 10 patients instead of five. That is double the amount and the patient will suffer,” added Hagans.
Hagans described the stressful conditions that many nurses work under.
“I don’t think people know what it’s like to work in an emergency room and walk in and lose a baby or a 19- or 20-year-old. We don’t even have a minute to take a deep breath, we cannot even grieve the loss because we just have to go wipe our eyes with a tissue, wash our hands and go back to receive another trauma, and we can’t even take a day off.”
Other striking nurses agree.
“What we went through with Covid, that just decimated our workforce. We were severely understaffed before Covid hit, then Covid came, a lot of people left the profession, people retired early, everyone burnt out, people left to do different jobs outside of nursing and now we’re left with staffing shortages that are the all-time worst it’s ever been,” said Matt Allen, a registered nurse at Mount Sinai hospital.
He explained there were currently about 700 vacancies at his hospital, leaving nurses with increased workloads and high patient-to-staff ratios that have been detrimental to patient care.
“We’re not getting breaks, we can barely go to the bathroom, we can barely have a sip of coffee. But at the end of the day, who’s really suffering is the patient that’s not getting the care that they should be getting,” added Allen.
While nurses have been on the frontlines during the Covid-19 pandemic and recent spikes in flu and RSV cases, hospital executives in New York received $73m in bonuses in 2020, in addition to receiving multimillion-dollar annual salaries and raising costs of medical care at New York City hospitals.
Large hospitals around the US made record profits during the Covid-19 pandemic. After praising nurses as healthcare heroes in the beginning of the pandemic, understaffing and burnout has contributed to two-thirds of registered nurses planning to leave the profession in the next two years, according to a 2022 survey by ShiftMed.
“We need more nurses hired. Now, not a year from now, not 10 years from now: now. That requires allocating nurses from schools and retaining the ones that are here now,” said Aretha Morgan, a pediatric ER nurse at New York-Presbyterian.
A spokesperson for Mount Sinai hospital said in an email: “Our goal is to reach an agreement that continues to provide our valued nurses with competitive compensation and benefits and ensures a safe, supportive working environment that enables them to provide exceptional care to all our patients across the diverse communities we serve.”