NEW YORK NURSE: April 2009
by Randi Hoffman
Fifty nurses stood outside Goldwater Specialty Hospital on March 18, chanting and singing despite the cold and rain.
They were holding a vigil to attempt to keep alternate work schedules (AWS) at their facility. Alternate work schedules, also known as flex time, allow the RNs to work 12-hour shifts three to four times a week, rather than eight-hour shifts five days a week. The 12-hour shifts are especially popular among nurses who are attending school or have families. They also have served as a tool to recruit nurses.
City Councilmember Jessica Lappin spoke to the group: “We need to look out for what’s best for the patients of these hospitals and what’s best for the nurses who work there. Neither of these groups are being well-served by this switch. I strongly urge the hospital to rethink its decision.”
Goldwater Specialty Hospital and its sister, Coler Specialty Hospital, are located at opposite ends of Roosevelt Island, which is in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. Primarily long-term care facilities, both are part of New York City’s Health and Hospital Corporation (HHC). The two hospitals employ about 420 nurses.
After the vigil at Goldwater, 80 nurses assembled at Coler for a similar event. A staff member for State Assemblymember Micah Kellner spoke to the crowd.
In addition to the vigils, the nurses employed other tactics to help keep AWS. The nurses at both facilities wore red “AWS for All” buttons. RNs at all HHC facilities were encouraged to wear the buttons in solidarity. There was an online petition, plus letter-writing and faxing campaigns.
Despite all of this, the management of the two facilities voted to eliminate AWS on March 19 and the decision was implemented on March 29. NYSNA Organizer Jeff Schioppa said it wasn’t over: “We are continuing to fight and the nurses are continuing to fight.”
To continue their campaign, nurses have been sending faxes to Alan Aviles, president of HHC. “The nurses have sent more than 500 faxes. They’re blowing up his fax machine,” said Sonia Echevarria, NYSNA nursing representative for the facilities. “Some of these nurses are going to school, and they’ve had to take incompletes on their courses.”
Echevarria said three nurses so far have resigned or transferred to other hospitals that have AWS. Others have signed pre-termination letters, stating if the schedules are not changed back, they will seek other employment.
“I’m committed to my patients here at Goldwater, but I’m also committed to my family,” said Keron Capleton, who has worked at Goldwater for 16 years. “By eliminating the alternate work schedule, the hospital is forcing me to choose between the two.”