More than 7,000 nurses at two major New York City hospitals walked off the job Monday, arguing that massive staffing shortages are causing widespread burnout and hampering their ability to properly care for patients.
Nurses say they work long hours in unsafe conditions without adequate pay – echoed in several nurses’ strikes across the country last year. The union representing nurses said a 19% pay rise would not be enough to address the staffing shortage.
This is the latest in a series of strikes in the health care sector in recent years. Those union members who have been on the frontline during the three-year battle against the Covid pandemic say the system can no longer function with the widespread shortages that have arisen in those years.
Although Tentative agreements were reached Several new contracts include nurses at several hospitals in recent days Late Sunday In the evening, negotiations at three locations, Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, failed overnight.
“After midnight negotiations at Montefiore and Mount Sinai hospitals yesterday, no tentative agreements were reached. Today, more than 7,000 nurses at the two hospitals are striking for fairer contracts that improve patient care,” the New York State Nurses Association said in a statement Monday.
Hundreds of nurses and supporters picketed in front of Mount Sinai early Monday, filling two city blocks, and numbers continued to grow throughout the morning. The picket line stretched across the street, blocking traffic at times. At Montefiore, picketers chanted, “Safe workers save lives.” Motorists heading to both hospitals honked their horns in support and cheered from picket lines.
“We’ve been fighting to work in safe conditions,” Mount Sinai transplant nurse Warren Urquhart told CNN Monday while participating in the walkout. “We’re doing our best every day. Something’s wrong inside the hospital. That’s why we’re outside the hospital.
Cars make noise as they drive by, prompting nurses to cheer and wave their signs.
Both hospitals said Monday morning that efforts to reach an agreement had failed.
NYSNA leadership walked out of negotiations after 1 a.m. ET, refusing to accept the same 19.1% pay raise offer agreed to by eight hospitals, including two other Mount Sinai Health System campuses, and ignoring the governor’s solution to avoid a strike. ” Mount Sinai spokeswoman Lucia Lee said in a statement to CNN.
It’s “a sad day for New York City,” Montefiore said.
“Despite Montefiore’s offer of a 19.1% collective wage increase — the same offer agreed upon at one of our wealthiest peers — and a commitment to create more than 170 new nursing positions … NYSNA’s leadership has decided to walk away from patient bedsides,” the medical center said in a statement.
While the union has agreed to similar raises at other hospitals, its main complaint at Mount Sinai and Montefiore is that nurses face overwork and burnout after three years on the front lines fighting the epidemic. They say the time and stress of caring for so many patients is driving nurses away and creating a worsening strain on staff and patient care.
“We need administration to come to the table and provide better staffing,” NYSNA President Nancy Hagens said in a press call Sunday afternoon.
The union insists it is striking in an effort to improve patient care.
“Going to a hospital to get the care you need does not cross our strike line. Patients should seek a hospital immediately if they need it,” the statement said. “We should be the providers of that care, but instead our employers have forced us to stay out.”
According to Hagans, Montefiore has 760 nursing vacancies, adding that “a nurse in the emergency department is responsible for 20 patients instead of the standard of three.”
Montefiore emergency room nurse Judy Gonzalez spoke Monday of her frustration at not being able to properly care for her patients due to staff shortages. At the Montefiore Moses campus, the number of unfilled positions has doubled since before the pandemic, he said.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing my patients a service,” she said. “I have patients who grab my shirt and I can’t help them because I have to do something else,” said Gonzalez, who has been at Montefiore for 40 years.
Gonzalez is a member of the union’s negotiating team. He went on strike after saying he was in talks until 3:30 a.m. Monday.
On Sunday evening, New York Governor Cathy Hochul urged management and the union to agree to binding arbitration as a way to avoid a strike. Although the management of both hospitals accepted the idea, the union did not.
“We will not give up our fight to ensure there are enough nurses at the bedside for our patients,” the union said in response to Hochul’s arbitration suggestion.
But the hospitals rejected the mediation offer and instead attacked the union’s decision to go on strike, calling on nurses to reject the strike and stay on the job.
“NYSNA continues its reckless behavior. The governor’s proposal would have provided a way to avoid a strike,” Mount Sinai said in a statement on Monday. “Our first priority is the safety of our patients. We are committed to minimizing disruptions and, despite NYSNA’s strike, we encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue to provide the world-class care they are known for.
Hospitals are gearing up for strike action after the nurses’ union announced its plans 10 days ago. Affected hospitals plan to pay temporary “travel” nurses, and some have already begun transferring patients. A Mount Sinai spokesman said Monday that “hundreds” of travel nurses had been brought in and some hospitals had rehired non-nursing staff. The union at Mount Sinai has 3,600 nurses.
Montefiore issued an announcement to employees, which was obtained by CNN, telling nurses how to leave the union and stay on the job if they want to continue caring for their patients.
Mount Sinai, which operates two hospitals that reached agreements Sunday evening, is still facing a strike. Started changing children Born last weekend in the intensive care unit. Facing the possibility of strikes, hospitals have already taken steps to postpone some elective procedures.
The union says hospitals will spend more to hire temporary nurses at a significantly higher cost. It is arguing that the hospitals must accede to their demands to hire more staff and give the union the raises it is seeking.
“As nurses, our primary concern is patient safety,” Hagans said in a statement Friday. “And yet nurses … are forced to work understaffed, stretched to our breaking point, and sometimes one nurse is responsible for 20 patients in the emergency department. This is not safe for the nurses or our patients.
Hospitals say they are doing what they can to hire more nurses.
“Mount Sinai is appalled by NYSNA’s reckless actions,” Mount Sinai said in a statement Friday. “Unionization affects patient care, and it forces Mount Sinai nurses to choose between a commitment to patient care and their own livelihood.”
Nurses at the first hospital to reach a tentative agreement, New York-Presbyterian, upheld the deal in a decision announced by the union on Saturday. 57% of nurses voted yes and 43% against. Tentative agreements reached over the past few days still need to be ratified by rank-and-file union members before they can take effect.
Strikes have become more common across the country as tight labor markets and unhappiness over working conditions prompt unionized workers to flex their muscles more often at the bargaining table.
According to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, there were 385 strikes in 2022, a 42% increase from 270 in 2021. The US Department of Labor, which tracks only large strikes of 1,000 or more workers, recorded 20 strikes in the first 11 months of 2022, a 33% increase from the same period in 2021.
Among the strikeouts recorded were several nurses’ strikes, with many unions citing burnouts and health problems among members.
Four of the 20 strikes announced by the Labor Department last year involved nurses’ unions. The largest is A Three-day strike By the 15,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, which covers 13 hospitals in the state.
— CNN’s Tina Burnside, Artemis Moshtagian and Ramishah Maruf contributed to this report.