The NY State Nurses Association (NYSNA) put city hospitals on notice that they are ready to go on strike beginning January 9 if they cannot negotiate a new contract.
Some 98.8% of the city’s 17,000 nurses voted to authorize a strike as their union contracts came up for expiration on Dec. 31.
NYSNA President Nancy Hagans told the press that persistent staffing issues and low cost-of-living wages had caused union members to push for a strike authorization. “We don’t take striking lightly. Striking is always a last resort,” she said in a news release. “But we are prepared to strike if our bosses give us no other option.”
The union informed New York-Presbyterian, Montefiore, Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside and West, Maimonides, BronxCare, Richmond University Medical Center, and Flushing Hospital Medical Center that nurses would soon not be showing up for work. The warnings were meant to help hospital management prepare for the strike and plan how they would care for patients, NYSNA said.
Late on Saturday, Dec. 31, NYSNA reached a tentative agreement with New York-Presbyterian, but even that proposed agreement reportedly includes only a 7 percent wage increase for this year and promises that additional nurses will be hired, if not immediately, over the next few years. “The NYSNA bargaining committee at New York-Presbyterian will present the agreement to their members with a recommendation they accept the contract,” the union said. “The contract will be settled and ratified only with a majority vote by NYSNA members at the hospital.”
At the seven remaining hospitals, some 12,000 nurses could still strike beginning January 9, although NYSNA says it is still in negotiations with each of them.
One of the main complaints is that too many nurses find themselves working on shifts where they are forced to care for too many patients at once. Nurses are overworked, particularly after having been heralded as brave workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now those same overworked nurses are burnt out and facing a “tripledemic” surge in flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases.
The short-staffing crisis is putting nurses and patients at risk, union members claim. “NYSNA nurses in New York City hospitals have been sounding the alarm about chronic understaffing for years now,” said Matt Allen, an RN at Mount Sinai. “But at every turn, even after the devastation of COVID-19 shone a light on the problem for all to see, our hospitals have ignored nurses and continued to put profits over patient care. These so-called nonprofit hospitals lavish their executives with seven-figure salaries and bonuses, but they refuse to pay nurses fairly or protect our healthcare benefits. They pay temporary travel nurses 100% more than they pay a staff nurse, in a bottom-line driven attempt to Band-Aid over the problem that will only continue to worsen.”