Nurses strike kicks off at Montefiore and Mount Sinai hospitals

Brooklyn BP, NYC city officials back striking nurses

January 9, 2023 Mary Frost
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After late-night bargaining failed to produce a contract, more than 7,000 nurses went on strike Monday morning at Montefiore Bronx and Mount Sinai hospitals in New York City.

Picketing kicked off at 7 a.m. at Montefiore’s three Bronx locations and at Mount Sinai in Manhattan. Numerous city officials pledged support for the striking nurses, and Attorney General Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Councilmember Gale Brewer (Manhattan) were expected to appear at the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) press conference scheduled for noon.

Late Sunday, Gov. Hochul released a statement asking for binding arbitration and calling on the Department of Health to enforce nurse staffing requirements required under the law. In response, NYSNA released a statement thanking the governor for her support, but added, “Gov. Hochul should listen to frontline COVID nurse heroes and respect our federally-protected labor and collective bargaining rights.”

Nurses told patients not to worry about crossing picket lines if they need care. “To all of our patients, to all New Yorkers, we want to be absolutely clear: If you are sick, please do not delay getting medical care, regardless of whether we are on strike,” NYSNA said in a statement Monday.

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Nurses stage a strike in front of Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 after negotiations broke down hours earlier. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Brooklyn hospitals working on deals

Several major Brooklyn hospitals came to agreements or tentative agreements with the nurses’ union over the weekend.

After midnight on Friday, The Brooklyn Hospital Center reached a tentative agreement with the nurses’ union, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). Nurses at TBHC have yet to vote to approve the contract. (Nurses at TBHC had not delivered a 10-day notice to strike.)

This followed a vote Friday night by nurses at Maimonides Hospital in Borough Park, who overwhelmingly (94%) approved a new contract, according to NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, who is a critical care nurse at Maimonides.

On Saturday, nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian also voted to ratify their contract, but by a smaller percentage (57%). When asked why fewer nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian approved the contract, Hagans said, “Voting is a democracy. Nurses vote how they feel.”

On Sunday afternoon, NYSNA nurses at Mount Sinai Morningside and West also reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. Other hospitals reaching tentative deals include BronxCare, Flushing Hospital Medical Center and Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island.

This left nurses at the two hospitals without contract. Montefiore Bronx represents roughly 3,500 nurses; Mount Sinai Hospital represents approximately 3,625 nurses.

Mount Sinai Hospital (which bargains separately from Mount Sinai Morningside and West) had walked out of the talks on Thursday and refused to attend Friday and Saturday’s sessions, but agreed to return to the table for the Sunday afternoon meeting. 

Over the weekend, Mount Sinai transferred sick newborns to other city hospitals in anticipation of the strike. Hagans said that nurses at Mount Sinai claimed the hospital had habitually understaffed their NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and was “spreading fears about NICU babies.”

“Staffing ratios were violated a long time ago. Each NICU nurse should carry two babies. Now at Mount Sinai it’s three,” she said. (At an earlier press conference, she said that number was four.)

Nurses stage a strike in front of Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 after negotiations broke down hours earlier. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

To hell and back’

Contracts expired on Dec. 31 for roughly 17,000 members of NYSNA at a dozen New York City hospitals. NYSNA contracts at NYC’s public Health & Hospital hospitals expire in the spring. 

After the last three traumatic years of COVID-19, overcrowded hospitals and staff shortages, nurses without a new contract said they were ready to walk.

“During the pandemic, nurses saved New York,” Hagans said. “Nurses have been to hell and back, risking our lives to save our patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes without the PPE [personal protective equipment] we needed to keep ourselves safe,” Hagans said. “When nurses left, management never replaced them. Right now, we are at a crisis.” She added there was “chronic understaffing” at Mount Sinai, pointing to more than 500 vacancies. 

Hagans said the nurses were most concerned with patient safety and nurse-to-patient ratios. “At Montefiore, there are admitted patients in beds in the hallways. One nurse takes care of 20 patients in the Emergency Room, instead of three, which is standard. We need to be able to care for patients in a safe manner.”

Nurses stage a strike in front of Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 after negotiations broke down hours earlier. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Three hospitals in Brooklyn continue to negotiate

Three private-sector hospital systems in Brooklyn continue to negotiate with the union, Hagans said. These include Interfaith Medical Center, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. 

Nurses at Wyckoff delivered a notice to strike starting January 17 if an agreement can’t be reached. (Wyckoff’s contract with NYSNA nurses expired one week later than contracts at many of the other hospitals.) “They are bargaining; we are on the table with Wyckoff,” Hagans said.

Interfaith and Kingsbrook are members of the One Brooklyn Health consortium, along with Brookdale Hospital Medical Center. (Nurses at Brookdale are not involved in the current contract dispute because they do not belong to NYSNA; they are affiliated with United Healthcare Workers 1199SEIU.) 

LaRay Brown, CEO of One Brooklyn Health System. Photo courtesy of One Brooklyn Health

Optimism at One Brooklyn Health 

“We essentially are beginning our negotiations,” said LaRay Brown, CEO of One Brooklyn Health. Brown is also the CEO of Interfaith. 

Nurses have not yet issued a 10-day strike notice at Interfaith or Kingsbrook, Brown told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday. Interfaith’s contract ended Dec. 31, while Kingsbrook’s ends this month.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to develop a reasonable and mutually agreeable contract with our nurse partners at Interfaith and Kingsbrook. Our labor partnerships, particularly with our nurses, are very important to us,” Brown said.

Nurses stage a strike in front of Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 after negotiations broke down hours earlier. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Brooklyn BP, NYC city officials back striking nurses

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and a slew of Councilmembers and other officials showed their support on Monday for the striking nurses.

“The higher-ups don’t want to make the most basic concessions,” Williams told reporters during a packed press conference. “They have been abusing their nurses all along … and their patients, too.” 

Williams said his sister was a nurse, and that both he and his baby girl had been treated during health emergencies by nurses. “We would not be here without those nurses. How dare you make them stand out in the streets when they should be inside treating patients!”

Speaking over the sounds of chants, cheers and honking horns, Reynoso said, “All that nonsense with pots and pans and talk about nurses being heroes” during the COVID crisis. “That’s BS. Let’s be real. It’s about doing what’s right by the nurses.”

NYC Emergency Management monitoring situation

Mayor Eric Adams said that New York City Emergency Management activated NYCEM’s situation room. Representatives from NYCEM are joined by representatives from the New York City Department of Health, NYC Health + Hospitals, the Greater New York Hospital Association and other agencies. 

“The Fire Department of New York City has contingency plans in place to reroute ambulances and NYC Health + Hospitals has emergency strategies to handle a surge in patients,” Adams said in a statement. 

According to NYSNA, the agreements reached with the hospitals improve nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in various units and add additional nursing positions; provide a three-year contract with annual salary increases of 7, 6 and 5%; improve dispute resolution; and preserve nurses’ current health benefits.

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