April 16, 2019

NYC Nurses Reach Historic Deal on Safe Staffing - Strike Called Off

NYC Nurses Reach Historic Deal on Safe Staffing - Strike Called Off

After a historic months-long fight for safer patient-nurse ratios in their hospitals, New York City area nurses are celebrating what is being called a landmark victory. According to the New York Times, an official agreement was reached on Tuesday and the nursing union announced that the hospital system will establish minimum staffing ratios for the first time ever, and hire an additional 1,450 nurses to meet those ratios. 

The Struggle for Safe Staffing

As nurses, we all know the struggle that was at the heart of the battle here: hospital administrators wanted the “flexibility” to not be bound to minimum staffing ratios, but to evaluate and staff based on patient census, while nurses pushed against the idea, knowing that patient numbers do not equate to workload and that in the hospital setting, things can change in an instant, so doesn’t it make more sense to be prepared, rather than scrambling to play catch up? I can still remember being puzzled during my days of floor nursing when nurses were called off or sent home at the start of a shift, only to watch nursing supervisors make frantic calls, offering overtime to nurses to come back in—it never seemed to make much sense to me either, but it can be hard to feel like you can make a real difference as just a lonely nurse on night shift. This story, however, shows the power of nursing in numbers, with so many nurses coming together to enact real change. 

Although the negotiations occurred in the NYC area, nurses everywhere watched and waited to see what the outcome would be—because the safer staffing ratios would not only affect the nurses working in New York but the entire country. With over 12,000 nurses involved, the on-going negotiations were historic and could have a ripple effect in inspiring other nurse unions to push for better staffing ratios in their own areas. Previous efforts to establish safe staffing ratios through legislation in Albany had failed and currently, California is the only state in the country that has legally state-mandated staffing ratios. At the minimum, nurse union leaders expect the changes to impact other large NY-area hospitals, if not other states. 

“This is going to have a very positive impact, and it will be the trendsetter of the industry,” Anthony Ciampa, first vice president of the New York State Nurses Association, told the NY Times. “What we decide in these major city hospitals tends to set the framework for other hospitals.”

Details of the Detail

The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the 42,000-member union that represented the nurses from Mount Sinai, Montefiore and New York Presbyterian hospitals involved in the intense negotiations, published an official press release on their website that shared more on the details of the deal. 

According to the NYSNA press release, the agreement is a four-year contract that will expire on December 31, 2022, and it includes the following stipulations, 

  • Outlines the language that will dictate the staffing ratios
  • Calls for an additional $100 million to hire nurses in full-time positions to meet those ratios.
  • To ensure that the safe staffing ratios will be met, they will actually be monitored and enforced by an independent neutral party.
  • The exact ratios for each unit and hospital have not yet been released.
  • For current and past nurses, the agreement also included a wage increase of 3% per year 
  • “Millions of dollars” for health benefits for retired nurses
  • Tuition reimbursement, and other monetary benefits

Although the agreement has been reached, the organization notes that it will go to a full member vote before being official enacted. 

“The tentative agreement strengthens worker protections including new guidelines to stop workplace violence, a process to improve safe patient handling, and language allowing nurses to aid victims of disasters inside or outside the United States,” the NYSNA states. 

NY Nurses React

After the agreement was announced, NYC-area nurses celebrated and shared sobering stories on social media that highlighted just how necessary the negotiations had been. 

“I've had 21 patients at one time when I should have 4-5,” wrote one nurse. “I've had to choose between helping a patient who is dying from a car crash and a patient who is having a stroke at the same time.”

“Thx to the thousands of NY nurses who unified to achieve agreement on minimum wage increases and allowing members to retire early with health benefits,” tweeted another in celebration. “A win for nurses, patients, and communities.”

The move is lauded as an achievement for nurses in the area and time will tell how it affects other states, who may soon be pressed to make their own decisions about mandatory safe staffing ratios. 

What do you think: should staffing ratios be legally mandated? 


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