NYC nurses win enforceable minimum staffing ratios and pay rise after 3 day strike
More than 7000 nurses in New York city have ended a 3 day strike over pay and conditions at the Mount Sinai Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center, after a tentative agreement with management and the New York State Nurses Association was reached.
The agreement will see a 19% pay rise for nurses at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center over the next 3 years and includes enforceable safe staffing ratios.
Members of the New York State Nurses Association went on strike on Monday, 9 Jan at 6am, following the expiry of nurses’ contracts at a dozen private hospitals on 31 Dec and after talks with hospital management broke down over pay and staffing concerns.
The tensions over rampant understaffing at the hospitals have been building for years with nurses leaving emergency nursing and in patient wards for higher paying jobs as temporary nurses or nursing positions in out patient services.
The New York Nursing Association reports that emergency nurses at the hospitals are regularly caring for a ratio of 18 patients to one nurse. The union had stipulated that nurses would only return to work if the hospital agrees to improve working conditions, including implementing a nurse to patient ratio.
The pandemic has left many nurses and healthcare workers with a deep distrust of management following the horrific working conditions, lack of PPE and deaths of frontline workers during the first wave of the COVID-19 wave, which saw 22,000 people die, including 310 NYC nurses in 2020.
Nurses on the picket line in the Bronx described overcrowded, understaffed conditions. “It’s unsafe because, in the emergency room, how can a nurse safely monitor 20 patients?” said Johnaira Dilone-Florian, a nurse practitioner. “Anything can go wrong. We are human, we’re not machines.”
One striking nurse outside Mount Sinai, John Adriel, 28, said that on the step-down floor where he tends to recovering patients, some on life support, he worries about their well-being and his own because there aren’t enough nurses.
“The patient-to-nurse ratios are unsafe,” Mr. Adriel said. “Every time I go into work, truly I’m scared for my license.”
Margit Anderegg, a labour and delivery nurse at Mount Sinai, said she was striking as a way to show solidarity with her colleagues in the emergency department, who she said sometimes have to care for 18 patients each.
“Mount Sinai is trying to spin us like we are being greedy and abandoning our patients, but we can’t work under those conditions, and it’s been going on for years,” she said.
Negotiations between management at union representatives had been ongoing for over four months. Ms Sheridan-Gonzalez a nurse in the negotiating team said that movement by management on the issue of enforceable staffing ratios and recruitment bonuses to compete with higher pay at nearby New York-Presbyterian Hospital had only happened in the last few days.
“I don’t think they thought we were going to go out,” she said.
Nancy Hagans, the president of the New York State Nurses Association, said the hospitals’ failure to hire new nurses has left hundreds of unfilled slots, including more than 700 openings at Montefiore and 500 at Mount Sinai. The new agreement with Montefiore includes what the union described as community health improvements and nurse-student partnerships to recruit local nurses from the Bronx.
“Our No. 1 issue is a crisis of staffing,” she said, adding, “It is an issue that our employers have ignored.”
“Through our unity and by putting it all on the line, we won enforceable safe staffing ratios at both Montefiore and Mount Sinai where nurses went on strike for patient care,” the NYSNA president, Nancy Hagans, said in a statement.
“Today, we can return to work with our heads held high, knowing that our victory means safer care for our patients and more sustainable jobs for our profession.”