Public and private sector nurses come together

Members take a moment to celebrate our historic victory in the New York State Assembly.

Corporatization and cuts to healthcare funding impact all of our patients, so members from both public and private facilities came together for NYSNA’s third annual public sector conference on June 23. NYSNA First Vice President Marva Wade, RN, welcomed hundreds of members who gathered in New York City to the “Public Sector/Private Sector Patient Advocate Conference & Congress Meeting” — a day packed with opportunities for members to learn, share strategies and hone skills for dealing with the challenges facing patients and nurses.

Celebrating our victories

The timing of the conference presented an opportunity for members from across the state to celebrate our two recent legislative victories: the Assembly’s June 14 passage of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act (see pages 7-10) and the Assembly and Senate’s near unanimous June 17 endorsement of the Enhanced Safety Net Hospital bill.

“Thanks to the hard work of NYSNA members and our partners, safe staffing and fair and equitable hospital funding are now high profile public health issues across this state,” said Anne Bové, RN and President of NYSNA’s NYC H+H Executive Council.

We thanked our political supporters including Senators Liz Krueger (D-28) and Bill Perkins (D-30), Assemblymember Latrice Walker (D-55), New York City’s Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, who joined us throughout the day. They pledged to keep working with us to see the staffing bill pass the NYS Senate and become law next year.

Following a moving memorial to the victims of the Orlando mass shooting (see page 3), Ms. Bové introduced the day’s first plenary by asking participants to name a deadly threat to public health. “I don’t mean Ebola or Zika. The threat we are talking about today is from private corporations and healthcare business profiteers,” she said. “They want to privatize every healthcare service — not to heal people but to make money. Where nurses see patients to be made well, they see billions of dollars to be made.”

Fighting for our patients

Panelists included Jim Cavallero, Area Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union Executive Board; Arthur Cheliotes, President CWA 1180 and CWA’s national strike chair with whom NYSNA worked closely in CWA’s recent Verizon strike; and Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York, a union of 25,000 college professors who recently won a hard-fought campaign to keep college education affordable and available to working New Yorkers.

Every speaker drove home the critical role of the Supreme Court in balancing power between the interests of the rich and powerful and the workers who keep our country running, and the key role of public sector unions in boosting the power of working people.

“Our unions are tools for social change but can only be as strong as we, who are the union, make them,” NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez told participants. “How we win today is the same as it’s always been. To quote Susan B. Anthony ‘Organize, agitate, educate must be our war cry.’”

“Make no mistake. The next President will have enormous influence on the composition, and therefore rulings, of the court,” warned Arthur Cheliotes. “Citizens United, the next Friedrichs case, reproductive choice, voting rights, affirmative action. These are all part of what makes this fall’s election so critically important.”

Building nurse power

The plenary was followed by workshops, where participants could choose between topics ranging from health and safety to building communication and leadership skills. At the workshop on “Using One-on-One Conversations to Strengthen Our Movement to Advocate for Quality Patient Care and Protect Nursing Practice,” nurses shared experiences of when they felt powerful. Every story came back to one of two themes: 1) nurses feel power when we stand together, whether to advocate for our patients, fight injustice, or enforce contract language; and 2) we want and need power in the workplace to make changes for our patients.

We are all leaders

Josephine Deocampo, an OR nurse at Bellevue, shared how she and her coworkers came together to fight a workplace injustice. “I was empowered by my own unit standing together. As union members, as nurses, we are strong when we are united.” She advised workshop participants to “Know your rights. Know the policies of your own hospital. And speak up.”

To bring people together and build unity, we have to communicate, and we know from experience that one-on-one conversations are the most effective way to educate, engage and mobilize. Cyndi Sexton, RN and NYSNA Executive Committee Member at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, concluded the morning workshop by reminding every nurse, “We are all leaders. We can empower each other.”

The lunch panel featured private and public sector nurses sharing experiences and insights on the ways that corporatization and austerity are affecting patients and nursing practice. Judith Cutchin, RN and LBU President at Woodhull Hospital, addressed the impact of government austerity on her patients and the need for fair funding for public hospitals. “I see the cutbacks in my public hospital every day. I see it when I get to work and we’re short-staffed, in the long wait times for patients, in the slowness of receiving supplies, and in the fact that the hospital isn’t as clean as it used to be before housekeeping was outsourced.”

Sean Petty, RN at Jacobi Hospital and NYSNA Board Member, echoed Ms. Cutchin’s demand for fair funding for public health and then spoke of the power that nurses have to make change. “Don’t let anyone tell you there’s nothing you can do. When nurses stand together, we’re unstoppable. We saw this when North Central Bronx tried to close Labor and Delivery, and we stopped it. We saw this when NYC H+H tried to privatize dialysis, and not only did we stop it, we reversed the privatization that had already taken place. When we faced a staffing crisis in Jacobi’s ER, we stayed united and got management to agree to hire at least 15 new nurses.”

Broken promises

Kevin Donovan, Erie County Medical Center nurse and NYSNA Board Member, led the day’s final panel titled, “How Nurses Can Wield Political Power to Defeat Austerity, Win Safe Staffing, and Protect RN Unions in Public and Private Sectors.” He shared ECMC members’ successful campaign to get resolutions in support of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act passed by both the County of Erie and the City of Buffalo. “The key is to get involved in community and local politics. That’s where we can have the most influence and effect the greatest change.”

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