A three-day strike involving more than 7,000 nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx ended on Thursday, Jan. 12 with tentative contract deals between the two hospitals and the nurses at each. The New York State Nurses Association said more than 3,500 nurses at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and about 3,600 at Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side in Manhattan had reached a new three-year contract.
As The New York Times’s Sharon Otterman, Joseph Goldstein and Jenny Gross wrote on Thursday afternoon, “More than 7,000 nurses at two New York City hospitals ended a three-day strike and returned to work on Thursday, after they resolved what they said was the major sticking point in negotiations with the hospitals: too few nurses. The tentative contract deals the nurses reached with Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx early Thursday would also increase their pay, an agreement the unions and hospitals had largely nailed down before the strike began,” they wrote. “But many nurses on the picket line this week said their main priority was improving working conditions by adding nurses to short-staffed hospital floors where they said crowded conditions had put patients at risk and led to stress and burnout among staff. That also became the priority of the union in the negotiations.”
And they quoted Kelly DePalma, a night nurse in the emergency department at Montefiore, who said that 15 patients were typically handed off to her when she arrived at work. “I feel like you’re doing the basic that you need to get done for the patients,” DePalma told the Times. “The medication is ordered, you give them that, but you don’t have time to do much else. You’re just kind of treading water to get through the night.”
The Times reporters went on to write that “Nurses in the intensive care units at both hospitals said they had been routinely asked to care for three critically ill patients at a time, when ideally they should only be attending to one or two. Striking nurses also described how conditions at hospitals across the city had deteriorated as the coronavirus pandemic dragged on. Many nurses left hospital jobs because of the trauma of the deadly first wave, burnout or the promise of higher-paying jobs as travel nurses. The nurses who remained were left with far more patients to care for, which they have said left them exhausted and frustrated,” they noted.
“We came to these bargaining sessions with great respect for our nurses and with proposals that reflect their priorities in terms of wages, benefits, safety, and staffing,” Philip O. Ozuah, president and CEO of Montefiore Medicine, said in a statement. “We are pleased to offer a 19-percent wage increase, benefits that match or exceed those of our peer institutions, more than 170 new nursing positions and a generous plan to address recruitment and retention.”
Mount Sinai administration posted a statement to the organization’s website on Thursday, which said, “We are pleased that The Mount Sinai Hospital reached a tentative agreement with NYSNA [the New York State Nurses Association union], and the strike is over. Our proposed agreement is similar to those between NYSNA and eight other New York City hospitals. It is fair and responsible, and it puts patients first.”
Aaron Feis of Pix 11 quoted Nancy Hagans, NYSNA president, who declared on Thursday that, “Through our unity and by putting it all on the line, we won enforceable safe staffing ratios at both Montefiore and Mount Sinai where nurses went on strike for patient care,” said Hagans. “Today, we can return to work with our heads held high, knowing that our victory means safer care for our patients and more sustainable jobs for our profession.”
The statement did not include specific details of the agreements, though it did hail newly-won “wall-to-wall safe staffing ratios for all inpatient units with firm enforcement” at Mount Sinai.
The Montefiore Bronx deal, meanwhile, includes “new safe staffing ratios in the Emergency Department,” according to NYSNA. It also has “new staffing language and financial penalties for failing to comply with safe staffing levels in all units,” as well as “community health improvements” and plans to recruit local Bronx nurses to union positions to bolster long-term staffing.
“We came to these bargaining sessions with great respect for our nurses and with proposals that reflect their priorities in terms of wages, benefits, safety, and staffing,” said Philip O. Ozuah, president and CEO of Montefiore Medicine, in the statement. “We are pleased to offer a 19% wage increase, benefits that match or exceed those of our peer institutions, more than 170 new nursing positions and a generous plan to address recruitment and retention.”
The strike exemplified a problem in hospitals across the nation, where cost-cutting by administrators, driven in part by low Medicaid reimbursement rates, had resulted in staffs stretched well beyond recommended safe staffing ratios even before emergency conditions began.
Pix 11’s Feis wrote that, “In its statement, NYSNA additionally announced that nurses at Brooklyn’s Wyckoff Heights Medical Center had reached a tentative deal overnight and withdrawn their 10-day strike notice.Nurses at seven other private hospitals in New York City had previously reached agreements to avert labor actions in the days preceding the Mount Sinai and Montefiore strikes.”
“We know this strike impacted everyone — not just our nurses — and we were committed to coming to a resolution as soon as possible to minimize disruption to patient care,” Montefiore said in a statement.
Among states, only California has a sweeping mandated nurse-patient-ratio law, and ratios at its hospitals are enough to make New York nurses envious: One nurse for every four patients in the emergency room, for example, and one nurse for every five patients on regular inpatient medical floors. In intensive care, nurses care for one or two patients.