Thousands of nurses strike across New York City in push for higher staffing levels

thousands-of-nurses-strike-across-new-york-city-in-push-for-higher-staffing-levels

NEW YORK — Over 7,000 nurses across the city went on strike Monday morning, after their union failed to secure new contract agreements demanding increased staffing levels at Montefiore Medical Center and Mount Sinai Hospital.

The New York State Nurses Association’s negotiations with Mount Sinai and Montefiore management reached a deadlock overnight following months of bargaining for the union’s first new contracts at each hospital since before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

No new bargaining sessions have been scheduled since the strike commenced, a union spokesperson said.

Both hospitals said they paused or rescheduled elective procedures slated for Monday, requested ambulance diversions and started discharging as many patients as safely possible. Mount Sinai also transferred babies out of its intensive care unit to hospitals outside its network. The union, however, urged patients to seek treatment if they required emergency medical attention.

“We appreciate solidarity from our patients — but going into the hospital to get the care you need is NOT crossing our strike line,” the union said in a statement early Monday.

“In fact, we invite you to come join us on the strike line after you’ve gotten the care you need.”

Nurses are picketing throughout the day outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore’s Moses, Weiler and Hutchinson campuses across the Bronx. At Mount Sinai they will be joined by New York Attorney General Tish James, City Council Member Gale Brewer and local labor leaders.

The hospitals blasted the nurses for their job action.

“We remain committed to seamless and compassionate care, recognizing that the union leadership’s decision will spark fear and uncertainty across our community,” a spokesperson for Montefiore said in a statement. “This is a sad day for New York City.”

Mayor Eric Adams warned in a statement late Sunday that the strike could impact patient care.

“If there is a nurses’ strike, hospitals in certain areas may experience impacts to operations, including possible delayed or limited service. We encourage all New Yorkers to call 911 only for emergencies, and be prepared to seek an alternate facility in case their preferred hospital is impacted,” Adams said.

The New York City Office of Emergency Management opened an interagency situation room Monday to monitor hospital operations citywide in real time and direct the flow of ambulances. A City Hall spokesperson said the FDNY has contingency plans to reroute ambulances and NYC Health + Hospitals has emergency strategies to handle increased numbers of patients.

Gov. Kathy Hochul made a last-ditch effort Sunday night to avert a strike by calling on the hospitals and union to enter arbitration. Both hospitals promptly agreed, but the union declined to rescind its strike notice or commit to an arbitration process.

“NYSNA continues its reckless behavior, rejecting Governor Hochul’s proposal for binding arbitration,” a Mount Sinai spokesperson said in a statement. “The Governor’s proposal would have provided a path to avoid this strike, which sadly is forcing nurses at The Mount Sinai Hospital to leave their patients’ bedsides.”

The union had notified the hospitals on Dec. 30 that they planned to strike in 10 days if they could not reach a deal before then to renew their contracts, which expired at the end of 2022. Since then, it withdrew strike authorizations about a half dozen other city hospitals — including Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West — after reaching tentative three-year agreements.

Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore management criticized the union for rejecting their offer of a 19.1 percent compounded wage increase, which nurses at other hospitals had accepted. Mount Sinai said it also offered to increase pension payments and hire 50 additional nurses, while Montefiore offered to create over 170 new nursing positions.

But NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane said the major sticking point was the union’s demand for a binding way to enforce increased staffing levels, such as the arbitration setup that nurses secured in recent negotiations at New York-Presbyterian.

“Something on paper that doesn’t translate into reality — that’s what we’re talking about,” she said during a press briefing last week.

Montefiore already has over 700 nursing vacancies, while Mount Sinai Hospital has about 500 unfilled openings, according to the union. NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said staffing levels are so low at Montefiore that emergency room nurses have had to care for 20 patients at a time instead of their usual three.

“Our bosses created the understaffing crisis,” she said.

Monday’s strike is one of the biggest the country has seen. In September about 15,000 hospital nurses in Minnesota walked off the job after marking two years without a contract, in what their union called the “largest private-sector nurses’ strike in U.S. history.” Nurses in Hawaii and California also went on strike last year.

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