NEW YORK NURSE: December 2008
by Randi Hoffman
After 42 negotiating sessions, several media campaigns, and numerous visits to community board meetings, the 786 RNs at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan ratified a solid three-year contract on Oct. 3.
Negotiations began in November 2007. For nearly a year, the nurses informed the community of their struggle by placing ads on billboards, on video display screens at subway entrances, and in local newspapers.
“This contract restores the St. Vincent’s nurses to the nursing salary standard of the city,” said Ilyssa DeCasperis, NYSNA labor representative. “The nurses made it clear that they remained loyal to St. Vincent’s throughout its bankruptcy and now it was their employer’s turn to repay their patience by returning them to their rightful place in the healthcare market.”
The contract is retroactive to Aug. 15 and includes annual wage increases of 6%, 3%, and 3%. The large increase in the first year makes up for the increases nurses did not receive during the hospital’s bankruptcy.
An increase in the experience differential provides $1,000 increments for years 21 to 24. The agreement includes a $1,000 lump sum payment for all RNs who were on the payroll from April 2006 until October 2008, and a $1,500 lump sum payment for RNs who were on the payroll at least 30 days prior to ratification.
The hospital and the nurses agreed to tuition reimbursement of $7,000 a year, up from $5,000, and retiree health benefits of $4,500 over the life of the contract.
“The best thing about the contract is that hospital administrators realized they had to respect the nurses,” said Eileen Dunn, chairperson of the local bargaining unit. “They showed that respect by recognizing the sacrifices the nurses made during the bankruptcy and restoring their salaries to those earned by other nurses in the city. The last contract was negotiated by a different administration. The last time they were in Chapter 11.”
“These nurses really stood strong for almost a year. They were unified,” said Christine LaPerche, NYSNA nursing representative. “They came in large numbers to the negotiating sessions. It was the solidarity of the nurses that made hospital managers change their minds.”
“We had really great voting responses for the new contract. The vast majority of our members are very happy,” said Michael Cormier, LBU membership chair.
“The executive committee stayed strong and never wavered in their support of the rest of the St. Vincent’s nurses,” said DeCasperis.
“We’ve been together as a committee for many years, and we all have the same goal in mind about what is best for the membership,” said John Hiltunen, LBU grievance co-chair. “In the end, the hospital realized the members were 100% behind us and we weren’t going to settle for less than we deserved.”
“We’re a unique group of people,” said Dunn. “We’re all very different. We argue well and we make up well. We allow for open and honest and unfiltered communication among ourselves, and then we present a united front.”
During the negotiations, St. Vincent’s was also fighting for city permission to put up a new building, despite opposition from the Greenwich Village community. “Our opinion is that we worry about what’s going on inside the hospital, not so much about the outside,” Dunn said.