Agreement at Maimonides; Talks continue at One Brooklyn Health
Several major Brooklyn hospitals came to agreements or tentative agreements with the nurses’ union over the weekend, avoiding a possible strike set to start Monday at two other New York City hospitals.
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 Is- land.
Getting ready to strike
This left nurses at two hospitals still poised to strike at 6 a.m. Monday morning if contract agreements could not be reached by that time: Montefiore Bronx, representing approximately 3,500 nurses, and Mount Sinai Hospital, representing approximately 3,625 nurses.
No progress with these hospitals had been made by Sunday afternoon. Talks would continue into the night if necessary, Hagans said.
Mount Sinai Hospital (which bargains separately from Mount Sinai Morningside and West) had walked out of the talks on Thursday and refused to at- tend Friday and Saturday’s sessions, but agreed to return to the table for the Sunday afternoon meeting. “Today Mount Sinai finally agreed to come back to the table,” Hagans said.
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.)
‘To hell and back’
Contracts expired on Dec. 31 for roughly 17,000 members of NYSNA at a dozen New York City hos- pitals. NYSNA contracts at NYC’s public Health & Hospital hospitals expire in the spring.
After the last three trau- matic years of COVID-19, overcrowded hospitals and staff shortages, nurses with- out 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, risk- ing 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 hall- ways. 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.”
Three hospitals in Brooklyn continue to negotiate
Three private-sector hospital systems in Brooklyn continue to negotiate with the union, Hagans said. These include Inter- faith Medical Center, Kingsbrook Jewish Med- ical 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 Brook- dale Hospital Medical Center. (Nurses at Brook- dale are not involved in the current contract dispute be- cause they do not belong to NYSNA; they are affiliated with United Healthcare Workers 1199SEIU.)
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 reason- able 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.
NYC Emergency Management monitoring situation
The New York City Office of Emergency Management, located in Downtown Brooklyn, plans to monitor hospital operations and direct the flow of ambulances if thousands of nurses go on strike Monday morning, officials told Politico. In addition, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that her administration has been in touch with the nurses and hospital administrators to avoid disruption to health care services.
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.