NEW YORK NURSE: June 2009
by Randi Hoffman
Five years ago video cameras were installed on the psych unit of Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center after the suicide of a patient. Nurses on that unit had no idea that years later those same cameras would be used punitively to monitor their behavior.
Between September and November of 2008, five NYSNA RNs working the night shift in this psych unit received disciplines from evidence obtained from the film on the video camera. In response, NYSNA nursing representative Maria Flores, RN, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). NYSNA and Bronx Lebanon reached a settlement agreement on April 30 of this year. The NLRB charge has subsequently been withdrawn.
After the NLRB ruled in favor of the nurses, the disciplines against them were dropped. The NLRB settlement agreement reads: “The hospital agrees that, absent actual or alleged issues of patient and staff security, safety and welfare, it will not use surveillance camera footage to view NYSNA bargaining unit members carrying out their work duties without providing NYSNA with notice and an opportunity to bargain.”
Flores explained, “Their contract says that the hospital can’t impose rules on what has not been negotiated. They were randomly surveying these nurses, and I thought that this was so unfair. After the ruling, I had a meeting with management and the human resources department and we discussed what would be fair in the use of these cameras, and we finally came to an agreement. The entire bargaining unit was informed of the good news.”
Matthew Chase, RN, has worked in the psych unit at Bronx Lebanon for six years, and at the hospital for about 14 years overall. The cameras recorded him taking too long for his break. Chase said, “It’s horrible. They’ve done everything to create stress and fear in the employees. It’s 1984 revisited. I’m grateful to Maria Flores for fighting for all of us. She’s some stand-up gal.”
His co-worker, Amaiachu Oriaku, RN, was brought up on similar charges. She’s worked three years on the psych unit and another four years on the med surg floor. “There has to be another way of disciplining,” she said. “If they are watching us all the time, they have to start wondering who is watching them.”
Flores said, “The important thing here is that video surveillance is that absent union representation to negotiate the terms and conditions of the use of these cameras, random viewing would have caused a lot of damage to the nurses via misrepresentations and subjective interpretations by the managers.