On December 21, NYC unionized nurses voted to authorize a strike by a landslide 98.8% vote in late December. (Photo via NYSNA)
As many as 12,000 New York City nurses are set to go on strike on Monday, January 9. On December 21, NYC unionized nurses voted to authorize a strike by a landslide 98.8% vote. The nurses, organized under the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), are demanding that hospital executives address short-staffing, raise pay in line with inflation, and not cut healthcare benefits for workers.
With the impending strike, hospital executives are scrambling. Nurses at New York Presbyterian hospital reached a tentative deal with bosses over the weekend, in which nurses would receive 18% in raises over the next three years. Nurses also reached tentative agreements with two more hospitals, Maimonides and Richmond University Medical Center, on January 5.
“It could be an enormous public health calamity,” Ken Raske of the Greater New York Hospital Association told NBC New York, regarding the upcoming strike. “Our ERs are backed up, the tripledemic is raging,” said Raske. “Even if one hospital would have a strike, it could ripple through the entire system.”
Nurses are clear about the implications of the industrial action. “We don’t take striking lightly. Striking is always a last resort. But we are prepared to strike if our bosses give us no other option,” said Nancy Hagans, NYSNA President and nurse at Maimonides Medical Center, in a statement released by the union.
“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. Instead of supporting us and acknowledging our work, hospital executives have been fighting against COVID nurse heroes,” Hagans condemned.
“They’ve left us with no other choice but to move forward with voting to authorize a strike for better patient care,” said Hagans.
Nurses have also pointed out that hospital executives received millions in bonuses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when New York City was the global epicenter. Nurses are arguing that this money could be used to invest in hiring more nursing staff.
This winter, three years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City is once again facing a seasonal surge of respiratory illnesses such as RSV, COVID-19, and the flu. In fact, CNN reports that this year, US hospitals are the fullest they have ever been throughout the entire pandemic.
“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,” said Aretha Morgan, pediatric nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, Dr. Steven Corwin, the chief executive of NewYork-Presbyterian, made almost $10.3 million. While nurses there have been fighting for higher wages and better conditions, Corwin claims that the hospital is only suffering from a nursing shortage because workers are “burnt out.”
NYC nurses are organizing to improve the conditions of their lives, and are thus fighting a dangerous global trend: a mass exodus from the nursing profession. Nurses around the world in Australia, Portugal, Serbia, New Zealand, and Ghana face staffing shortages. A 2022 poll found that two-thirds of US nurses are poised to quit nursing in the next few years—a 50% jump from 2021. The New York State Department of Health estimated in 2020 that there will be a shortage of 39,000 nurses by 2030.
Hospitals without enough nurses have resorted to recruiting temporary travel nurses, who are typically paid more, instead of raising wages for existing nurses. “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,” said Matt Allen, a Mount Sinai nurse.
“In the Emergency Department, I sometimes care for 20 patients at a time, instead of a safe standard of 3 to 6 patients,” said Benny Mathew, a nurse at Montefiore Medical Center. “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.”