The 7,000 nurses who went on strike in New York Monday say the 19% pay hike that hospital management offered them was never the main issue.
“We are not out here for wages. We are out here because we want the patients’ safety,” said Lorena Vivas, a nurse at Mount Sinai for 19 years and member of the executive committee of the New York State Nurses Association, to a crowd of hundreds of strikers and their supporters in front of Mount Sinai Hospital.
“When I’m in ICU, I’m supposed to have two patients. I have three to four. I have two or three nurses working 24 hours,” she said. “This has been going on even before the pandemic. We’ve negotiated for over four months. They’ve refused to listen to us.”
Although seven hospitals spread across the city, including two owned by Mount Sinai elsewhere in Manhattan, have been able to reach tentative labor deals with the union, Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical Center, which has three hospitals in the Bronx, were not able to reach deals before a Sunday night deadline. And so thousands of nurses went on strike with no end in sight.
Union officials insist they can’t accept a deal if it won’t fix the staffing issue. They say that the nurses are at a breaking point.
“We are sick and tired of the hospital only doing the bare minimum,” said Danny Fuentes, a union official who spoke to the crowd Monday. “Time and time again we are forced to take unsafe patient loads. We are humans and we are burnt out. And we are tired. And the hospital doesn’t seem to care. All they see are profits. We don’t want to be out here. We would much rather be with our patients. We need a fair contract to protect our patients.”
Union officials appeared to be winning the public relations battle in this fight, with cars and trucks honking their horns in support of the strikers throughout the day. And the union officials were getting overwhelming cheers from crowd as well with their position that they were fighting to put patients over profits.
Mount Sinai called the strike “reckless” and Montefiore called it a “sad day for New York City.” Both hospitals insisted that they would be able to provide the patient care needed with temporary “traveling” nurses brought in to serve patients and by shifting some workers from other duties in the hospital.
But ambulances are being sent to other hospitals in the city and elective surgical procedures are being postponed. Mount Sinai announced last week it had started to transfer newborns in its neonatal intensive care unit to other hospitals due to concerns about the quality of their care during a strike.
The overall effect on the New York hospital system appear to be minor so far, according to a city official.
It appeared Monday neither side was likely to budge off their bargaining position in the near term. While the union and Montefiore are due back at the bargaining table Monday afternoon, no new talks are scheduled as of midday for Mount Sinai.
Both hospitals insist they’re doing what they can to improve staffing. The union says Mount Sinai and Montefiore have severe staffing problems and need to do more than the others to improve patient care and work conditions.
Both hospitals called on the union to take an offer of binding arbitration to settle the dispute proposed late Sunday by New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Although Hochul made a proposal more to management’s liking than the union, the union trotted out a bevy of elected and union officials from around the state on Monday’s rally to support their position.
– CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich and Tami Luhby contributed to this report