NEW YORK NURSE: December 2009
by Randi Hoffman
On a gray Tuesday, a small but spirited group of NYSNA nurses picketed with signs, whistles and chants in front of Westchester Square Medical Center in the Bronx.
The 160 registered nurses at the facility have one of the lowest pay scales in the borough and have been working without a contract since August. At the Nov. 10 informational picket, they took to the streets to tell the public about short staffing on their units.
“I was born here. I care about the place,” said Clare Hughes, grievance chairperson for the local bargaining unit. “Our main issue is staffing. We’re way below staffing levels that are acceptable to patients.” She said that on the night shift on some floors, a nurse can be caring for 14 to 18 patients simultaneously, adding, “We’re urging the RNs to file protest of assignment forms to document the short staffing.”
Another nurse, Blessing Rafua, said, “How much can one person do? I just want some staffing. They don’t want to give anything. They want to keep everything the way it is.”
NYSNA nurses from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, both Bronx facilities, came to the picket to lend their support to the Westchester Square nurses.
The Berger Commission put the hospital on its closure list in 2007. Subsequently, the hospital declared bankruptcy to protect itself against creditors. In the past three years, both New York Presbyterian Hospital and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish system have investigated partnering with Westchester Square.
“We understand the hospital is in a tenuous position and we’re willing to negotiate,” said Hughes. “But the hospital has not shown good faith. We’re not out to get downtown wages. We understand that’s not the way it is.”
“They say the current staffing levels are manageable,” said NYSNA Labor Representative Elaine Charpentier. “But, if you’re going to run a hospital, you have to provide an adequate level of care.”