Nurses Strike at Two Major New York City Hospitals
Nearly three years into the coronavirus pandemic, contract talks about staffing and pay have stalled. On Monday, thousands of nurses at two major hospitals in New York City went on strike because of this.
As a result of the strike, private hospitals put off surgeries that weren’t life-threatening, sent ambulances to other hospitals, hired temporary workers, and put administrators with nursing backgrounds in the wards.
Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan both lost about 3,500 nurses. Outside of Mount Sinai, a large group of protesters sang the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” chorus by Twisted Sister. COVID-19 made New York a death zone in the spring of 2020.
“Two years ago, we were heroes,” said oncology and transplant nurse Warren Urquhart. We were in the front lines when the city stopped. We need to stop so they can see how important we are to this hospital and its patients.”
Because there weren’t enough nurses, the New York State Nurses Association had to go on strike.
Jed Basubas said that he usually sees between eight and ten patients, which is twice as many as should be in his units. Juliet Escalon, a nurse practitioner, said that she sometimes skips bathroom breaks for patients. Ashleigh Woodside said that staff shortages often make her 12-hour shifts in the operating room last for 14 hours.
We enjoy working. We take care of people. But we just want to do it in a safe and kind way that makes us feel appreciated,” said Woodside, who has been a nurse for eight years.
The hospitals said they offered the same raises—19% over three years—that the union had already agreed to at a number of other places where tentative agreements had been reached in the past few days.
Montefiore said he would hire 170 more nurses. The administration at Mount Sinai said that the union’s focus on nurse-to-patient ratios “ignores the progress we have made to attract and hire more new nurses, despite a global shortage of healthcare workers that is affecting hospitals across the country.”
On Monday, hospitals said they had planned for the strike and were trying to keep things as normal as possible.
Montefiore said, “We are still committed to providing care that is smooth and kind, even though we know that the union leadership’s decision will cause fear and uncertainty in our community.” NYC is melancholy today.
Mount Sinai said that the union was crazy.
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Late on Sunday, Gov. Kathy Hochul asked the hospitals and the union to settle their differences through binding arbitration. As a way to get to a fair result, the Montefiore administration said it would let an arbitrator decide how to settle the contract.
The union began to fall apart. It also said that Hochul, who is a Democrat, “should listen to the COVID nursing heroes on the front lines and respect our federally protected rights to work and collective bargaining.” By moving patients, including newborns in intensive care at Mount Sinai, both hospitals were ready for a walkout.
The last hospitals whose union contracts ended at the same time were Montefiore and Mount Sinai. At first, the Nurses Association thought it might happen to all of them at once, which could be a disaster even in New York, where there are so many hospitals.
As the deadline got closer, other hospitals and the union came to an agreement. Saturday, nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital agreed to a three-year contract that will give them raises of 7%, 6%, and 5% and add more staff. This 4,000-nurse deal has been used as a model for other talks about hospital systems.
Sunday, nurses at two Mount Sinai facilities signed contracts for the first time. The system’s main hospital on the Upper East Side did not have such an agreement.