Unsafe working environments. Poor nurse to patient staffing ratios. Hospital overcrowding.

A looming nursing strike in four private hospitals across New York City looks like it’s going to take place based on the results of a recent vote held by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) in an attempt to address these core issues affecting patient care and nurse safety.

Workers Unite Film Festival tweeted their support for the NYSNA on March 13.

Nurses Speak Out and Prepare to Strike to Improve Safety and Patient Conditions

On March 7, 2019, the president of the NYSNA, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez spoke at a press conference held at the Stewart Hotel in Manhattan, New York, according to Barry Williams for the New York Daily News, and said the following:

“Year after year, protest after protest, these hospital administrators ignore us. What choice do we have? Our principle demand? Safe staffing ratios, a safe workplace, community involvement in best addressing the needs of our patients.”

She also announced that 10,000 nurses are prepared to strike at the following hospitals in a matter of weeks:

  1. Mount Sinai
  2. Mount Sinai West
  3. St. Luke’s NY Presbyterian-Columbia
  4. Montefiore Medical Center

Out of more than 9,000 nurses who cast their vote regarding the strike, 97 percent were in favor and expressed the nurses’ widespread dissatisfaction with working conditions while serving some of the highest-grossing hospitals within the city. The vote for the strike authorization came just after dozens of demonstrations were held on February 13 to uphold safe staffing ratios, better patient conditions, and fair nursing contracts.

If the NYSNA NYC nursing strike goes through, approximately 10,000 nurses will withhold labor in stark protest to the “grueling working conditions affecting the majority of nurses in the city, most of whom are women, many of whom are immigrants and women of color,” according to Left News outlet.

One nurse who spoke out on the issue, Nicolette Mabeza, works at a children’s hospital. She and her fellow nurses have recently taken care of multiple intubated children, who are often not even located next to each other. She had this to say according to the Gotham Gazette:

“Not only does it make you feel that you’re being a terrible nurse. You also wonder, why should patients come here if nurses can’t give the adequate care that they deserve?”

Staffing Shortages and Hospital Overcrowding are the Central Issues

Staffing problems are at the core of this looming nursing strike. Currently, the registered nurses working at these hospital systems are forced to do so under incredibly unsafe staffing ratios. Among other issues, the nurses are fighting in order to achieve:

  • Paid breaks
  • Wage increases to match inflation
  • Retiree healthcare benefits
  • Safe staffing ratios

One medical-surgical nurse might be assigned anywhere from six to eight patients. These numbers double when a fellow nurse goes on break due to the failing “buddy system” currently in place meant to cover care and allow for breaks. Nurses are subject to:

  • Being overworked
  • Unable to take breaks
  • High rates of on-the-job injury, assault, and harassment

Patients are also suffering under these unrealistic staffing ratios by being forced to wait longer for:

  • Imaging and testing
  • Pain relief
  • Diagnosis

Other core issues these nurses are fighting for include negotiated paid breaks, wage increases that match inflation, and health benefits for retirees. 

One New York nurse, Kyu Nam, wrote about the desperate conditions  she and her fellow nurses are forced to work under on a daily basis. Physical and emotional duress make it hard for the nurses to provide the type of healthcare their patients deserve or offer adequate support to other nurses. She explains

“The overwhelming demands of the job don’t give us much breathing room to jump in when someone else is in the weeds. It forces us to get tunnel-visioned. We all know teamwork is necessary, but oftentimes we come out looking more like lone wolves calling out into the wild: ‘Anybody out there? Can someone help me?’ The real beast ripping into our flesh and breaking our backs are the hospitals and healthcare system itself. I reach a point almost every shift where I tell myself, ‘This is insane. We need more support. I hate this.’”

Hospital Executives Deliver Harsh News in Response to Requests

How did the hospital executives respond to the requests from the employees? They sent out emails claiming that safe staffing ratios “would devastate our patient-first staffing approach,” they also made the claim that “One size does not fit all.”

Nurses are not convinced this is true. It sounds like an attempt to maintain the status quo of hyper-exploiting nurses. This move by corporate only confirms that the nurses are the only ones standing up for the rights of the patients in this situation.

These hospital executives have been raking in the money by the millions for years by profiting from sick people. A report by Crain’s New York Business showed that Mt. Sinai, which is one of the hospitals where the nurses voted to strike, had a 28 percent increase in operating profits, which reached $205.2 million in 2018.

Considerations and Implications of the Potential Nursing Strike

There is a law in New York, known at the Taylor Law, which prohibits the public sector of workers to strike. Because the hospitals are all privately owned, a strike would not violate this law in any way. However, the NYSNA, which is an organization that covers public and private sector nurses, voted several months ago to push for the removal of this act and other unions are also on board.

As the possible strike gets closer, nurses in this state are going to need support from the community. To date, several organizations in New York have showed up at the picket lines to support the nurses, including:

  • Professional Staff Congress (PSC), UNITE HERE Local 217
  • New York Hotel Trades Council (HTC)
  • Committee of Interns & Residents (CIR), GABRIELA New York
  • Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
  • New York Professional NursesUnion (NYPNU)

Furthermore, the Socialist Feminist Working Group of the DSA promised to donate to strike funds and walk the picket line with nurses. Publically, they put out a statement that shows their support for the nurses’ stance. 

This plight of the nurses is representative of the struggle faced by the entire community. If the strike takes place, they will be  pushing back against corperate greed and austerity. We will continue to monitor and report on this fluid situation in New York.

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