In the latest string of threatened strikes, 17,000 New York City nurses are now authorized to strike in January 2023 if an agreement for a new contract cannot be reached.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) announced that nearly 99% of union NYC RNs voted to strike if an agreement cannot be reached.
The strike comes at a potential time when many hospitals across the nation are feeling the strain–or potential threat–of what is being dubbed a “tridemic” of COVID-19, RSV, and flu infections hitting many patients particularly hard this year.
About the Strike
Citing the primary issue of the authorized strike as concerning fair pay, benefits, and safe staffing, the NYSNA announced that 14,000 of 17,000 union nurses voted in the authorization of the strike and expect that the remaining nurses will also vote in favor of the strike.
In a statement on Instagram, the NYSNA wrote:
“Hospital employers continue to resist when it comes to safe staffing, fair wages, and maintaining quality health benefits. These are essential components to address the nurse staffing crisis and improve quality care for our patients.
That’s why NYSNA nurses throughout NYC private sector hospitals have begun strike vote authorization. We are serious about our contract expiration deadline of Dec. 31.
If hospitals can afford to pay executives millions of dollars in salaries, bonuses and perks, they can afford to invest in hiring and retaining enough nurses for safe patient care.”
The strike votes have been completed as of December 22, 2022, at the following hospitals:
NYSNA President and frontline nurse at Maimonides Medical Center Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN explained that striking is not something the organization takes lightly and noted that while a strike is always a “last resort,” it’s still one the nurses are willing to take if their bosses leave them no other option.
“Nurses have been to hell and back, risking our lives to save our patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes without the PPE we needed to keep ourselves safe, and too often without enough staff for safe patient care,” she said in the NYSNA’s statement. “Instead of supporting us and acknowledging our work, hospital executives have been fighting against COVID nurse heroes. They’ve left us with no other choice but to move forward with voting to authorize a strike for better patient care.”
The NYSNA also explains that their nurses have been doing their best to sound the alarm about the need to staff hospitals appropriately in light of the threat of the “tridemic,” but notes that hospitals, unfortunately, have not been “doing enough to keep caregivers at the bedside, and instead of working with COVID nurse heroes, in some cases, are even threatening to cut their healthcare benefits.”
Aretha Morgan, RN, MSN, Pediatric ER nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian explained: “Right now, we are facing a tripledemic of COVID, flu and RSV. Our pediatric ER is overflowing and short-staffed on almost all shifts. It is unbearable to see children suffer because we don’t have enough staff to provide safe patient care. And yet, NewYork-Presbyterian, which paid its CEO almost $12 million dollars in salary, bonus, and perks in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, has failed to invest in hiring and retaining enough nurses.”
Through COVID—With No Changes
NYSNA nurses also spoke to how conditions they worked through during the pandemic have not improved—while the pandemic may have been viewed as a “temporary” hardship during a worldwide emergency, hospital administrators have undoubtedly had time to improve working conditions since then. Nurses did their part on the frontlines, but many feel that their sacrifice is now going unnoticed, with no effort to improve what are unsustainable working conditions.
“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,” Matt Allen, an RN at Mount Sinai, said through the NYSNA. “These so-called nonprofit hospitals lavish their executives with 7-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.”
Nurses also referenced severely unsafe staffing ratios, some as high as 20 patients to one nurse. In the Emergency Department, I sometimes care for 20 patients at a time, instead of a safe standard of 3 to 6 patients,” Benny Mathew, RN at Montefiore in the Bronx, told the NYSNA. “This is not safe or fair for nurses or patients. It leads to worse patient outcomes, and it increases the risk of patient death. We want safe staffing to save lives.”
NYSNA announced the outcome of the strike vote on their Facebook page, with over 110 comments rolling in from supporters. Some RNs also shared their own difficult stories of facing deteriorating conditions, some even after long careers spent in healthcare. “I was a NYSNA nurse for 17 years,” said one commenter. “I had to resign a few weeks ago because I was just at my breaking point. My health issues became too much from the physical and mental stress put on me as a nurse. I’m still behind my NYSNA nurses.”
What Happens Next
Negotiations have reportedly been ongoing for months leading up to the strike vote, but no agreement has been reached yet. And unfortunately, the staffing issues the union has complained about have been ongoing as well.
For instance, a recent report on the situation of New York state’s hospitals painted a dire picture of hospitals trending downwards financially, cutting patient services, and struggling to hire or retain nursing staff. In fact, according to the report,100% of the state’s hospitals report nursing shortages they cannot fill. The report also noted that contract nurses, who made up 50% of New York hospitals’ total contract labor expenses in 2019, made up 65% in 2022.
Hospital administrators have until the end of the year to deliver a contract that the union will agree upon, but the strike authorization vote does not mean the nurses are prepared to strike on any certain date—yet.
Instead, the authorization vote simply enables the union to set a strike date within 10 days of announcing it. So once the contract expires on December 31, 2022, if no agreement has been reached for a new contract, the union can set a strike date any time in the future with a 10-day notice.
So far, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office has not released a statement on what the plan will be if the strike goes through. Local news station Pix11 announced that a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams stated that the office is “closely monitoring” the situation and promised New Yorkers the “healthcare resources” they need during the holiday season.