Staffing Law update: Multi-Union Steering Committee Symposium Plenary Meeting

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Unity was everywhere as NYSNA was joined by 1199SEIU, CWA, DC 37, PEF leaders and more than 500 participants in the first Multi-Union Steering Committee Symposium on January 28. Key terminology, concepts, and timelines were presented. But first off, speakers acknowledged that history was being made with a staffing law touching the lives of so many workers in the several unions.

"This is a historic moment. Coming together under one campaign is inspiring," said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, RN. These words were echoed by CWA Vice President Becca Miller, whose union represents 15,000 healthcare workers in Western New York. Todd Hobler, Executive Vice President of 1199's Upstate Division, said, "Today is the starting point of historic collaboration to win better staffing at all our hospitals."

In fact, the staffing law, passed by the Legislature in June and signed into law in July, brings together both union and non-union workers because it applies to ALL workers in ALL hospitals in the state. Non-union workers will get to see what staffing levels are achieved in union facilities, and vice-versa, an opportunity to organize non-union shops.

CWA's Becca Miller joined NYSNA's Field Director Eric Smith in an extended presentation on the law itself. "What is the goal?" asked Eric.

  • Ensure safe staffing
  • Achieve a robust system of enforcement
  • Law as a "tool to fight"
  • Unite around a common plan
  • Secure a safe workplace for all workers
  • A road to solidarity for all HCWers

The law establishes a clinical staffing committee at every hospital in NYS. It calls for a staffing plan for each hospital and responds to staffing concerns.

The labor side of the committee is made up of frontline HCWers: RNs, LPNs and Direct care workers. At least 50% of a facility's committee is comprised of labor. Workers choose workers.

Clinical staffing plans are to be drawn up for each care shift based on the needs of patients and staff, with "specific guidelines on ratios, matrices or grids." The plan should indicate how many patients are assigned to each RN and each ancillary staff.  With numbers!  Staffing numbers are to be set for the entire patient care team.

There are two votes on the staffing committee decision: one management; one labor. Consensus is reached with two votes, i.e., unanimity. Without concensus, the CEO makes the decision, which must be in writing, wth elements of the clinical staffing plan spelled out and a "rationale" for the decision.

That decision is subject to review. As Becca Miller explained, the CEO decision will be reviewed "to see a pattern of management blocking progress" and the review complaint submitted to the NYS Department of Health. "We will look at 'bad action employers,'" said Eric.

The investigation carried out by the DOH is key to a working staffing plan. The law empowers DOH to levy fines against employers. "Labor has veto rights," said Eric, "as unresolved issues escalate to the state."

Throughout, transparency is required. Failure to follow the law, comply with it, reach consensus, share updates and amendments are subject to DOH review and fines. "DOH has the power and responsibility to investigate," said Eric. "We must demand an activist DOH!"

That includes DOH entering hospitals to carry out first hand the investigations. Fines run up to $5,000 per violation.

Here is the timeline for this “historic” undertaking:

  • Staffing plans to be adopted on July 1, 2022, to implement January 1, 2023. The next plan to be adopted July 1, 2023, to implement January 1, 2024.
  • By October 31, 2024, a panel of nine sitting on an advisory commission (three from each of nursing practice, unions and hospital representatives) will make final a clinical staffing law.

This is an extraordinary opportunity to work with fellow workers to establish staffing ratios that protect nurses and HCWers and give patients quality care — ALL patients.