On Monday, January 9, over 7,000 New York City nurses from Mount Sinai and Montefiore hospitals in Manhattan and the Bronx, respectively, went on strike. Nurses, organized by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) are demanding safe patient-to-staff ratios, fair wages, and to maintain existing healthcare benefits.
Nurses, who authorized a strike on December 21 with an overwhelming vote of 98.8% in favor, have been in contract negotiations with hospital administrations across the city. Initially, the number of nurses set to strike was around 16,000, at eight hospitals: NewYork-Presbyterian, Montefiore, Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside and West, Maimonides, BronxCare, Richmond University Medical Center, and Flushing Hospital Medical Center. However, hospital bosses scrambled to reach tentative agreements with the nurses to avert a strike at all hospitals save Montefiore and Mount Sinai Hospital.
The mood outside of Mount Sinai Hospital, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was fiery, despite negotiations being tense for the past few days. The picket line swelled with a crowd of hundreds of nurses, bisected by a road of slow-moving vehicles, many honking in support.
Mount Sinai management has claimed that NYSNA walked out of negotiations, while NYSNA has claimed the same of the hospital bosses.
“It is deeply unfortunate that instead of agreeing to either of these solutions and rescinding its strike notice, Mount Sinai’s NYSNA leadership has made the decision to ask nurses to leave patients’ bedsides during a tridemic,” claimed Mount Sinai on January 9.
Montefiore also made similar implications regarding the commitment of NYSNA nurses to their patients. “Despite Montefiore’s offer of a 19.1% compounded wage increase—the same offer agreed to at the wealthiest of our peer institutions—and a commitment to create over 170 new nursing positions, and despite a call from Governor Hochul for arbitration, NYSNA’s leadership has decided to walk away from the bedsides of their patients,” wrote the hospital in a statement.
Again and again, hospital bosses and their representatives have hammered in the point of how disastrous a strike by nurses would be. A strike would be a “public health calamity,” claimed Ken Raske, of the Greater New York Hospital Association.
Nurses are indeed essential, as evidenced by hospital executives’ costly efforts to make up for the losses of the strike by transferring infants to other hospitals or hiring travel nurses, who are paid more than a regular nurse. Union nurses have pointed out the incongruency of these decisions, as the millions of dollars required to prepare for a strike could be used to simply pay nurses more. And, as striking nurses have emphasized consistently, the picket line is the last place they want to be.
“We would rather be in there, doing what we love,” Diane, a nurse at Mount Sinai, told Peoples Dispatch, referring to the hospital building behind the picket line.
“We don’t wanna leave our patients. This is the last thing that we ever want to do. But unfortunately we’re pushed to this point,” said Jessica, also a nurse at Mount Sinai. “Management left their patients, not us. We’re here fighting for our patients.”
These nurses are referring to one of the primary concerns of unionized nurses: the lack of safe staff-to-patient ratios at New York City hospitals. New York state actually has existing staffing laws, which were passed in 2021 to address precisely the issue of hospitals using understaffing to cut costs. However, since then, New York state has failed to enforce these laws. Mount Sinai currently has 500 staff openings and Montefiore has 700, according to NYSNA.
Julia, another Mount Sinai nurse, told Peoples Dispatch: “When there’s too many patients being taken care of, then it compromises safety, and at the same time, it compromises your license. So that’s why we’re here. It really is safety for the patients as well as for the nurses.”
“Who were [the ones] here during the pandemic? Who is actually at the bedside?” Julia continued. “So if it is [the hospital executives’] family being taken care of, how could you expect me to really be addressing all of the issues of the one patient, if there’s maybe 17 other patients being taken care of in the emergency room in or in the ICUs or as inpatients.”
Hospital bosses claim that understaffing is due to a shortage of nurses. In reality, nurses are leaving the profession at increasing rates due to low wages and high stress. Union nurses argue that by investing in hiring more staff, which will decrease stress, and paying nurses more for their work, hospitals will be able to address a shortage of nurses. Instead of making these investments, the union has pointed out that hospital executives paid themselves tens of millions in bonuses during the height of the pandemic.
“We want New Yorkers to be taken care of. We stayed with you during COVID. You clapped for us with pots and pans,” said Nella Pineda-Marcon, nurse at Mount Sinai and NYSNA secretary, at a January 9 press conference at the Mount Sinai picket line. “Our loyalty is with New Yorkers. Our loyalty is with the community. It’s never profit over patients.”
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