On Thursday December 22nd, roughly 17,000 nurses across the area are preparing to strike in the new year after a successful authorization vote to overwhelmingly do so within their union. The New York State Nurses Association (NYSA) coordinated this union action after failed contract negotiations across 12 private hospitals.
Nursing contracts expire in hospitals such as New York Presbyterian Columbia and Mount Sinai on December 31, 2022. Yonkers hospitals like St. Joseph’s Medical Center and St. John’s Riverside Hospital employ NYSNA members, however their contracts are not due for renewal and are therefore not a part of this strike. New York Presbyterian Westchester in Bronxville, formerly known as Lawrence Hospital, is not affiliated with NYSNA and therefore is also not affected.
Up to eight months of negotiations between hospital executives and union members produced no acceptable terms resulting in the most dramatic of consequences, a full labor strike. Wages, sick leave, and healthcare benefits are primary issues in the negotiations. While these are common in any employment contract, there is also the demand of reasonable ratios of nurses to patients and other “safe staffing” measures. NYSNA President, Nancy Hagans, explains this rationale because “We want to be able to provide excellent care for our patients. In order for us to deliver proper care, management would have to hire more staff.”
The hospitals themselves are not publicly tackling the specific issues as head-on as the union. For example, Mount Sinai states that “We are committed to negotiating in good faith at all times to ensure fairness and fiscal responsibility. We are confident that we will reach a new contract that continues to recognize and reward their hard work and dedication.” And it is that recognition and reward of hard work that is precisely the club which NYSNA is using in this fight. The union of nurses is citing their status and esteem during the height of the COVID pandemic as a justification for better contracts.
“We nurses saved New York […] We put everybody ahead of us.”Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN
During the pandemic, most hospitals across the country competed for an overstretched supply of nurses. This competition ballooned the industry of “travel nursing” which engages nurses on temporary high-paying contracts, but lack the benefits and security of full-time staff nurses. If the strike commences in a few days, these experienced staff nurses will head to the picket line to be replaced by a yet unknown proportion of substitute travel nurses.
The strike is unlikely to drag on for very long. The last strike of this kind occurred in 1996 and only lasted three days. Governor Kathy Hochul‘s administration is reportedly monitoring the situation, but does not yet appear to have taken any stand on the issues at hand. Meanwhile, NY Attorney General Latisha James has publicly supported the nurses:
Regardless of the stances of elected politicians, it will be up to the hospital administrators and the nurses themselves to ultimately resolves this stalemate.
The full list of hospitals facing a strike are:
- Montefiore Medical Center
- Mount Sinai Hospital
- Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West
- NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center
- Richmond University Medical Center
- Wyckoff Heights Medical Center
- BronxCare Center
- Brooklyn Hospital Center
- Flushing Hospital
- Interfaith Medical Center
- Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center
- Maimonides Medical Center