Nurses Extend Strike to Second Day at 2 Major New York City Hospitals
More than 7,000 nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center returned to the picket lines on Tuesday as New York City’s largest nurse strike in decades continued into a second day.
At Montefiore in the Bronx, nurses and management were scheduled to return to the bargaining table for continued talks on Tuesday morning. At Mount Sinai’s main campus on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, however, no new talks were scheduled, union representatives said.
Hundreds of nurses, wearing their bright red union hats and scarves, gathered outside the hospitals Tuesday morning to call for improved wages and working conditions. Inside the hospitals, a skeleton staff cared for reduced patient loads. The nurses said they worried that patient care was suffering, but that improving patient safety was one of the main reasons they went on strike.
“We are very hopeful that we will get something settled soon,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a nurse on the negotiating committee at Montefiore. “I really want us to go back.”
Nursing contracts between the New York State Nursing Association and about a dozen private city hospitals expired on Dec. 31. Since then, eight hospitals have come to tentative agreements or ratified them. Talks continue at three hospitals, and two are striking.
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Nurses have been seeking higher wages, as well as assurances that management will regularly assign more nurses to care for patients. While wage demands have largely been met, the striking nurses are seeking additional guarantees that they will not regularly be asked to care for more patients than they feel they can safely handle.
Nurses on the picket line at Montefiore on Monday described overcrowded, understaffed conditions that they hoped a new contract would address. “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.”
Negotiations have been going on for four months, Ms. Sheridan-Gonzalez said, but movement toward union demands of enforceable staffing ratios and recruitment bonuses to compete with higher pay at nearby NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital only happened in the last few days.
Margit Anderegg, a labor and delivery nurse at Mount Sinai, said Monday 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.
To deal with the strike, the hospitals have called in traveling nurses and relied on medical residents and other hospital staff who remain at work. Montefiore has canceled all elective surgeries and procedures and postponed all outpatient appointments, and Mount Sinai has transferred patients to other facilities, including Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside, where contract agreements were already reached.
Philip Ozuah, the president and chief executive at Montefiore, said in a letter to staff on Monday that he was deeply disappointed by the strike, and blamed the union for walking away from patients. “In my opinion, this action was totally unnecessary, especially given how close we already were to a final agreement,” he said.
At Mount Sinai, management was also highly critical of the nurses decision to strike, calling it reckless. Both hospitals are offering the same 19.1 percent increase in wages over three years settled on by all the hospitals that have so far reached agreements, including two other Mount Sinai Health System campuses.
At Mount Sinai, the two sides still have still not agreed on enforcement language for patient-nurse ratios or increased seniority differentials to match pay at Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West, union representatives said.
The nurses have reached a tentative agreement with the Brooklyn Hospital Center, and new agreements have been ratified at NewYork-Presbyterian, Maimonides Medical Center, Richmond University Medical Center, Flushing Hospital Medical Center, and BronxCare. Negotiations continue with Interfaith Medical Center, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, all three of which are in Brooklyn.
Sean Piccoli and Christopher Alvarez contributed reporting.