I dropped in on several Nurses Week celebrations again this year and felt very fortunate and inspired to celebrate in person. I found myself reflecting on where we are after three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and how, despite the ongoing challenges, we have a lot to celebrate.
Members Lead the Way
So much has been written about how the pandemic has taken a toll on nurses and our profession. A record number of nurses have left the profession since 2020, and a shocking percentage are considering leaving in the next few years because of poor, unsustainable working conditions.1
At the same time, a record number of nursing students are entering the profession, inspired by nurses’ heroism that millions watched on television screens for the first time. NYSNA members were part of this wave of inspiration. We continued to show up and show out throughout the pandemic. We led the fight for stronger health and safety protections and better staffing. We showed the world that “safe staffing saves lives” is more than a slogan, and our hard work has helped deliver the state and the country to the next, less deadly phase of the pandemic.
As a nurse and NYSNA member for more than 30 years, I see nurses living up to our potential of leading from the frontlines. Our activism and engagement are moving our union to build power, take on more challenges and win. What’s good for nurses is also good for patients, workers and our entire healthcare system. We are creating a powerful wave across New York and beyond that is already inspiring other healthcare workers.
Nurses Inspiring Nurses
NYSNA nurses from all over the state fought and won great contracts on the heels of the successful New York City private-sector contract campaign. In the North Country, Adirondack Medical Center nurses were the first to settle a great new contract, building momentum for other nurses in the region. North Country nurses at three St. Lawrence Health System hospitals bargained together for the first time and won major gains, including entry into the NYSNA Benefits Fund.
On Long Island, Northwell nurses at Plainview and Syosset made major gains in salary and staffing in their contracts, and Northwell South Shore nurses nearly went on strike before settling a contract that matched the wage pattern set in New York City. Other Catholic Health nurses are fighting back too — St. Joseph Hospital nurses won a great new contract, and St. Charles and St. Catherine of Siena nurses are now fighting for fair contracts.
Our members are inspiring nurses nationally and even internationally. Through our connection to other National Nurses United affiliates and international unions, we have shared our strategies and witnessed an upsurge of new organizing and action on behalf of patients and our profession.
Healthcare Workers Unite
After the successful New York City contract campaign and strike, 1199SEIU fought to reopen its contract and negotiate higher wages for 78,000 members. Its gains will help hospitals and nursing homes hire and retain more frontline staff for safe staffing and stop the creep of our jobs into nonnursing functions.
NYSNA nurses worked in solidarity with early career doctors who organized a union with CIR/SEIU at Montefiore in January. In May, the CIR/SEIU interns and residents in Queens hospitals fought for pay parity with their colleagues working in private-sector Manhattan facilities. The doctors at New York City Health+Hospitals/Elmhurst went on strike for three days before reaching a tentative agreement that included pay parity. NYSNA nurses were the inspiration for this fight, and we were there in solidarity with our colleagues every step of the way.
When the entire healthcare team — nurses, doctors and other frontline staff — have a stronger voice at the table, we all do better.
Nurses are leading the way with contract enforcement as well. Nurses in NYSNA and beyond are looking at the arbitration victory that Mount Sinai nurses won on behalf of safe staffing and their neonatal intensive care unit patients, and they are working to replicate that advocacy.
Beyond Nurses Week
Even as we stretch our Nurses Week celebrations beyond one week, it is still not enough time to celebrate the incredible work we all do year round. We need to continue lifting up one another’s amazing work and enable it to inspire others.
Taking time to celebrate each other is especially important now as more and more healthcare systems are turning Nurses Week celebrations into “staff week” or even “hospital week” to take away our pride in our profession and our power. Even as employers try to make nurses’ light shine less brightly, NYSNA nurses will be here throughout the year to remind each other what we are worth; that our light has the power to inspire others; and that when we fight, we win.