NEW YORK NURSE: December 2009
by Mark Genovese
It didn’t matter that NYSNA didn’t represent registered nurses at Lenox Hill Hospital. The RNs at the upper East Side Manhattan facility were colleagues in a tough contract dispute and needed support.
The 800 members of the New York Professional Nurses Union (NYPNU) refused to accept the hospital’s demand for a staggering $6.5 million cutback in wages and benefits. The inflexible position of hospital management had forced its RNs to take drastic action to maintain quality nursing care.
As the NYPNU nurses prepared to strike on Nov. 9, NYSNA staff and members quickly put a full-scale campaign into operation. They prepared to join the NYPNU nurses on the picket line, start a letter and petition drive directed at the hospital and “scab” traveling nurses, purchase advertisements, and contact the news media.
With the help of the National Federation of Nurses (NFN), NYSNA secured pledges of support from other unions representing nurses – including the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers East, New York State United Teachers, California Nurses Association, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, and the Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Michigan state nurses associations.
NFN President Barbara Crane expressed the national union’s solidarity. “We share the concern of our colleagues that noncompetitive wages and benefits at Lenox Hill will make it difficult for the hospital to recruit and retain nursing staff,” she said. “Short staffing results in fewer nurses at the bedside and puts patients at risk.”
Lorraine Seidel, director of NYSNA Economic and General Welfare program, said she was concerned about the hospital’s decision to hire temporary nurses to cross the picket line. “Lenox Hill promotes itself with the slogan, ‘Smart People, Smart Healthcare,’” she said. “Hiring scab nurses is not smart. It is extremely costly to the hospital and brings in nurses who are unfamiliar with the facility and its patients. Other hospitals have tried to break the will of union nurses this way. It doesn’t work.”
The pressure had an impact. Early in the morning of Nov. 6, the Lenox Hill nurses settled a contract that contained no givebacks and even made some improvements to their package.
NYPNU President Maureen McCarthy thanked NYSNA and the NFN, acknowledging that management had bowed to pressure. This movement, she surmised, was a response to the strong national support garnered by NYSNA for the Lenox Hill RNs.