NEW YORK NURSE: January 2008
by Mark Genovese
A group of NYSNA members filed more than 1,000 complaints of gender discrimination against the City of New York and the City Council on Dec. 21, claiming city nurses are being denied the right to a fair pension.
The complaints were delivered in person by NYSNA members and staff to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission’s Manhattan office at 33 Whitehall St. NYSNA represents 7,100 RNs employed by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and mayoral agencies.
The City Administrative Code provides for earlier pension eligibility for occupations that are considered “physically taxing.” This is defined as jobs requiring “heavy duty and extraordinary effort.” Studies have shown that nursing meets these criteria, in that nurses are at a high risk for back injuries stemming from the repeated manual handling of patients that often involves lifting, transferring and repositioning.
Because nursing is a traditionally female dominated profession, nurses have been excluded from this provision. The nurses have twice introduced legislation to correct this inequity. Both times it was blocked as a result of political game-playing.
“Despite our society’s success in addressing many civil rights issues during the past several decades, gender discrimination is still pervasive in New York City,” said Nancy Kaleda, senior associate director of NYSNA’s Economic & General Welfare Program.
“Although the type of work registered nurses perform may be different from other occupations currently designated as ‘physically taxing,’ nurses spend most of their work hours walking or standing. They are required to lift, move, and reposition patients,” Kaleda said. “The cumulative negative effects on their bodies are no less than those experienced by any employee in a male-dominated profession.”
Studies have shown that nurses who manually handle patients run a substantial risk for lower back injuries. Moving patients can exert up to 2,000 pounds of force on a nurse’s lumbar spine and it has been estimated that nurses lift an equivalent of 1.8 tons per shift. Nearly 40% of nurses will sustain significant back injuries during their careers. In 1998, 61,600 nurses nationwide had to take time off work due to back injuries, more than construction laborers, janitors, and carpenters.
This injury rate is directly related to the number of RNs who retire early. The average age of RNs in New York State is 47 years. Largely due to the physically taxing nature of the profession, the average retirement age for registered nurses in New York is only 49.
“We don’t understand how the city could have abandoned the nurses of HHC,” Kaleda said. “That nurses should have to turn to this is an embarrassment for the city of New York, which supposedly prides itself on being one of the most progressive employers in the nation. Moreover, this status will result in no increased costs to the city, as nurses who would benefit from this change will make additional contributions from their salaries.”
“NYSNA, for its part,” said Kaleda, “has not abandoned city nurses and will continue to fight to obtain what rightfully belongs to the nurses. NYSNA will pursue every avenue until ‘physically taxing’ is a reality for city nurses. It is our hope that the EEOC will see the facts as they are and find that the government of the City of New York has failed its nurses.”