As New York enters a new phase in this pandemic, our union is also shifting gears.
Three months ago, our hospitals were unprepared for COVID-19’s devastating impact. New York has been the epicenter of this global pandemic, and front line nurses, as well as the patients we care for, have paid the price for the country’s lack of preparation.
We can’t ever let this happen again.
We know the only way to protect our communities and prepare for the next outbreak is for nurses to have a seat at the table. And as New York starts to reopen, we are amplifying our reopening agenda.
Starting next week, for example, NYSNA staff will begin to move safely back into the field. You’ll start to see reps outside your facility at shift changes and other key times, so we can get to work moving our reopening priorities and facility-specific safety plans.
If our hospitals want to get back to business as usual, that means respecting our contract. We must restore contractually mandated staffing standards, respect floating language, provide time off to rest and recover, and restart regular labor-management meetings.
Our hospitals must also implement enhanced PPE standards, introduce more robust environmental controls, and strengthen health and safety protocols. We also need transparency, so we can ensure front line nurses and our patients are protected when the next surge hits.
NYSNA’s AGENDA FOR ALBANY
We’re also pressing Albany to get back to work and address the urgent needs of working New Yorkers.
I’m pleased to report that NYSNA’s own Karines Reyes, RN has already pushed whistleblower legislation through the State Assembly, expanding protections for nurses and other healthcare workers who speak out about conditions in our workplaces. Diane Savino led the effort on the Senate side.
Late last night the New York legislature also made its first down payment on the enormous debt New Yorkers owe to nurses and other essential workers. Thanks to Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Abbate for leading the effort to make line of duty death benefits easier to access for the families of essential public sector workers taken by COVID-19.
The whistleblower protections and public sector line-of-duty death benefit legislation are now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
NYSNA will continue to press lawmakers to take care of essential workers who carried New York through the COVID-19 crisis, starting with measures to ensure any essential worker who gets sick from COVID-19 can more easily access the state's workers compensation system.
We will also continue to press for an essential workers bill of rights that includes an enforceable infection control standard, and PPE stockpile requirements for our hospitals.
And NYSNA will continue to stand against the misguided cuts to New York’s Medicaid system, which will only widen the racial disparities COVID-19 has laid bare.
ELECTING LEADERS WHO WILL WORK FOR US
Unfortunately, Albany has a long history of taking its cues from hospital executives, insurance companies, big real estate developers, and Wall Street.
And these corporate interests are using the economic collapse from COVID-19 to block lots of legislation, anything with a price tag attached.
Nurses and other front-line essential workers shouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail to be taken care of, and we won’t accept the cuts aimed at the communities we serve.
New York’s working class communities — particularly our communities of color — have already borne the brunt of the corporate healthcare agenda, with cuts to vital services like behavioral health. The deadly consequences of cuts and disinvestment have only been accelerated by COVID-19.
We reject Albany’s austerity agenda, and are building a broad coalition of unions and community allies to force the legislature to get serious about raising revenue, including raising taxes on billionaires, ultra-millionaires, and Wall Street.
And if our current lawmakers aren’t willing to stand up for us, then we need to elect some who will.
That’s why it’s so important that NYSNA members register to vote in the June 2020 primary.
Mail-in registrations must be postmarked by May 29, and received by June 3.
ST. ELIZABETH’S NURSES FIGHT BACK AGAINST LAYOFFS
Since St. Elizabeth Medical Center parent company MVHS announced furloughs and layoffs in April, St. Elizabeth’s nurses have been organizing and fighting back. First, they enacted the stronger layoff provisions in their contract, ensuring the staffing cuts impacted only 42 nurses, instead of the 78 nurses that MVHS originally tried to lay off.
Then, they mobilized nurses and community supporters in a rally along the parkway in Utica calling for more nurses and spoke out in the media. They are showing NYSNA pride and demanding more nurses with a button campaign. And finally, they filed a grievance to demand pay for nurses who were laid off without pay without the required 14-day notice with pay. Through solidarity, St. Elizabeth nurses will beat back austerity and win the safe staffing that their community deserves.
UPSTATE NURSES CHOOSE NYSNA
Upstate nurses are coming together to demand a voice at work by organizing with NYSNA! The COVID-19 crisis has shown it’s more important than ever that hospitals protect and respect their nurses — and forming a union is the path to make that happen.
Nurses at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck and Saint Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick are getting ready to vote yes for NYSNA, and the 43,000 members of NYSNA are ready to welcome them!
ALBANY MED NURSES HEAD BACK INTO BARGAINING
Albany Medical Center nurses are working hard to win a first contract. Weekly bargaining has commenced on Tuesdays using Zoom. The hospital instituted cuts and other belt-tightening measures during the COVID-19 crisis that were not financially necessary, including partially furloughing hundreds of RNs, freezing wages, and making unilateral schedule changes to Periops.
Albany Med’s own financial documents show that between Cares Act funding, an advance from CMS, and a reduced travel budget, that the staffing and salary cuts for their frontline heroes is not necessary. Nurses plan to call Albany Med out on Sunday, June 7, when they will hold a silent protest in front of the hospital.
WORKERS COMPENSATION: DON’T BE DENIED
No one knows the long-term health effects of COVID-19 exposure, so it’s essential that you protect your right to medical care and wage replacement through New York’s workers’ compensation system. Future benefits for you and your family could hinge on steps you take now.
We’re fighting for the legislature to join 13 other states who’ve made COVID-19 an occupational disease for essential workers. But until they do, the New York State Workers Compensation Board requires that workers notify management of a workplace incident within 30 days of when it takes place. NYSNA has created an easy-to-use system so you can notify your employer today.
We’ve heard disturbing reports that employers, and third-party administrators like CorVel, are trying to discourage nurses who have been exposed to COVID-19 at work, or fallen ill from the virus, from filing for workers’ compensation.
It’s important to know, only the Workers Compensation Board determines who is eligible for a claim. Please contact your Rep if you’re experiencing roadblocks at your hospital, and you can feel free to file a claim directly.
As part of any claim, you’ll be required to get a report from a doctor certified by the Workers Compensation Board. Because of the difficulties seeing medical providers, NYSNA is sharing a list of New York State Occupational Health Network Clinics that may be a good choice for medical follow up for a COVID-19 claim. These clinics can be found throughout the state and are approved to conduct examinations via telehealth. The list of clinics can be found HERE.
NYSNA WEBINAR TONIGHT! ADDRESSING RACIAL DISPARITIES
African Americans and Latinos are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of white New Yorkers. Reversing these longstanding inequities must be a central focus as we move forward.
Join NYSNA leaders for a webinar Solidarity on the Move, examining COVID-19 related racial disparities in New York, and how unions and community organizations are combating these.
Join us TONIGHT, May 29, 2020 from 8:00 - 9:00 PM! Register Here!
This event is being sponsored by the NYSNA Committee for Social Justice and Civil Rights, which was launched in June 2015 in the wake of the white supremacist murders of nine African-American worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
As we bear witness to the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota five years later, and reflect on how little has changed, we are coming together for a discussion on how to win justice in all of our communities of color. Join us tonight at 8:00 PM.
I’m deeply saddened to report that we’ve lost several more NYSNA members and nurse colleagues to COVID-19 this past month. We’ll continue to post tributes to our fallen colleagues on our Memorial Page.
If you have pictures or remembrances you’d like to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll continue to ensure their families receive the support from the NYSNA Fund for Fallen Nurses. If you know any of our nurse colleagues that we’ve lost, or can help connect us with surviving family members for any of our late colleagues, please contact your NYSNA Representative.
Now that the initial surge of COVID-19 cases is subsiding, we want to address the many challenges NYSNA members are facing. We know the need is tremendous, for example, NYSNA’s Union Assistance Program reported that last month was the highest overall utilization of their services they’ve seen in the last 30 years!
We understand the toll the last three months has taken on front line nurses, not to mention the isolation and loneliness created by social distancing and quarantine measure.
Now more than ever, we want to remind you that if you are struggling with a problem, you can contact their ESI Member Assistance Program. Confidential help is available 24/7/365 via counseling, coaching, or online self-help resources.
Just log in to the ESI website, click on the red and white Coronavirus Training and Resources Center, and then click on the green Training and Resources box. As always, you can call 800.252.4555, or visit theEAP.com/Union-AP.
The Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses Program is also sponsoring “Wellness Wednesdays,” where counselors and other professionals lead peer groups on a variety of wellness topics. You can find out more on the SPAN website.
NYSNA IN THE NEWS
As state officials and business owners pressed for reopening this month, our criteria for a safe reopening broke through in the media. The New York Daily News, the New York Post, CBS, and more covered our Reopening Platform.
Other coverage showed that our advocacy on safety issues is still sorely needed. The Guardian covered a question every nurse has asked herself when pressured to “disinfect” single-use PPE — “Am I exposing myself to dangerous chemicals?”.
The Gotham Gazette exposed the hoops frontline workers have to jump through to receive workers’ compensation, quoting NYSNA leaders on the need to classify COVID-19 as a workplace disease.
NPR showed the toll COVID-19 has taken on the national healthcare workforce, with almost 300 lost to the disease, according to official counts. The story highlighted that many facilities are still working under crisis contingency guidelines — risking even more nurses getting sick.
On a more positive note, the Buffalo News covered the excellent care ECMC’s Terrace View has provided during the coronavirus crisis, even as other, better-funded facilities have faltered. The secret? Giving nurses a seat at the table.
And multiple TV news stations, including WNBC, covered our participation in a car rally on Staten Island for essential workers. The rally started at Staten Island University Hospital and visited other essential workers, like bus drivers and Amazon warehouse workers, advocating for an essential workers bill of rights. And News10 ABC featured our solution to the healthcare cuts that are looming in New York State: Tax the billionaires and ultra-millionaires!
Pat Kane, RN