New York City nurses at two major hospitals are on strike. They say their main concern is the care standards in hospitals, including nurse-to-patient ratios.
“What we’re fighting for is safe staffing, having the ability to take care of a specific ratio of patients in order to provide quality care and safe care. That's our biggest thing,” said Shirley Escala with the New York State Nurses Association. The NYSNA is a union of 42,000 nurses.
From California to New York, nurses have gone on strike over similar issues, ranging from pay to hours, and standard of care.
The New York State Nurses Association has been in negotiations with hospitals since mid-September. The current contract expired at the end of 2022, at which point the union served a 10-day strike notice. The strike involving around 7,000 nurses began on January 9.
“If you don't value your more senior nurses in addition to recruiting new nurses, you're going to have a workforce that is impaired, not only in numbers, but in terms of their clinical experience and their ability to take care of patients. That's why both are important,” Escala said.
Following the pandemic, the industry saw a shortage of workers.
“You had more senior nurses, more experienced nurses, resign,” Escala said. “Younger nurses were saying, ‘You know what, I don't need to work in these kinds of conditions’ so they left.”
The National Union of Healthcare Workers saw a record number of new organizing inquiries in 2022, according to a December press release. This means more healthcare workers showed interest in unionizing. Membership increased by nearly 10%. Part of the press release stated, “A lack of staff, combined with being battered by COVID-19 for nearly three years has taken a toll on healthcare workers.”
“Things are moving more than they were before we went on strike, but slowly,” Escala said.
Mount Sinai Hospital, one of the hospitals involved in the negotiation process, referred to the strike as ‘reckless’ in a Facebook post earlier this week that stated “NYSNA walked out of negotiations and rejected Governor Hochul’s proposed solution. The union is forcing Mount Sinai nurses to leave their patients during a COVID-19, flu, and RSV surge. This strike is reckless. New Yorkers deserve better.”
An earlier Facebook post from the same hospital stated that NYSNA leadership walked out of negotiations after refusing to accept the same 19.1% increased wage offer agreed to by eight other hospitals.
California is the only state with mandated nurse-to-patient ratios right now. Massachusetts has a mandate specifically for ratios in intensive care units.