NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2008
by Randi Hoffman
After a long campaign that included an informational picket and the threat of a strike, the 2,500 nurses of New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Upper Manhattan approved a breakthrough three-year contract on June 20. Better nurse-patient staffing ratios and a retiree health plan were some of the victories gained.
“Negotiations were dragging along, but not really going anywhere, and we had been six months without a contract,” said Mary Castle, an RN who works in the ambulatory recovery room at New York-Presbyterian, explaining why the nurses voted to proceed with the informational picket.
On June 3, more than 1,000 nurses picketed in three locations on the New York-Presbyterian Hospital campus. Their collective voices sent management a strong message as to what they needed in their contract.
“The weekend before we were to have the strike vote, everyone was very concerned about the economy and our job security,” continued Castle. “The bargaining team was sequestered all weekend, and that Monday, we were reading a proposal instead of taking a strike vote.”
The most groundbreaking gain in the contract was the creation of the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA), which applies to retired RNs over 65 with 20 years of full-time employment. It is a separate account from which the nurses are reimbursed for medical expenses. This benefit supplements Medicare coverage and complements the existing “bridge to Medicare plan” that currently covers nurses when they retire at 60, until they are eligible for Medicare.
The hospital has added nurses to a number of units for a better nurse-patient staffing ratio. The New York-Presbyterian nurses also won a 3.5% salary increase per year.