Public Sector Nurses Speak Out for Health Equity and to Jumpstart Negotiations

Hundreds of NYSNA nurses from New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H)/ Mayorals packed the courtyard outside H+H headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 18, demanding a fair contract and safe staffing to deliver the care all New Yorkers deserve. Nurses held “I am a Nurse” signs honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as a powerful reminder that public hospitals serve the most marginalized and poorest New Yorkers and are the backbone of New York City’s healthcare system.

On the heels of the contract victories in several private sector hospitals and with approximately 9,000 public sector NYSNA nurses with union contracts expiring this March, nurses spoke out demanding that New York City and H+H officials begin negotiations to prioritize safe staffing, health equity, and pay equity in the public sector. 

Nurses chanted, “We Saved New York,” reminding the public of their essential role during the pandemic. Despite being recognized as heroes in the wake of an unprecedented pandemic and being celebrated with the nightly banging of pots and pans, public hospital nurses have continued to endure unsafe staffing levels and a widening gap between their pay and the private sector, leading to high levels of turnover.

Joined by several City Council Members including, Chris Marte, Crystal Hudson, Shahana Hanif, Amanda Farias, and Selvena Brooks-Powers; and allies from community organizations like New York Communities for Change and The Poor People’s Campaign, nurses spoke out about the pressing issues they face while trying to keep New Yorkers healthy.

Dr. Judith Cutchin, DNP, RN, NYSNA First Vice President and President of NYSNA’s NYC Health+Hospitals/Mayorals Executive Council, said: “Many of us have worked nonstop throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, working overtime, missing out on vacation, and putting our lives and the health of our families at risk to care for your families. We are exhausted and we are concerned. We are concerned about chronic understaffing that never seems to end.” 

NYSNA Director at Large and H+H/Lincoln Hospital nurses Sonia Lawrence, RN, spoke out: “The gap between our pay and private-sector nurse pay is only getting bigger and more unfair. We congratulate our NYSNA siblings in the private sector for winning great contracts that will improve staffing, protect their healthcare benefits, and increase their pay. Now it’s our turn to do the same! Public sector nurses cannot wait months and months to settle a fair contract—we will bleed too many nurses if the City waits to negotiate with us!” 

NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN, said: "To my siblings in the public sector: All of the private sector is with you! All of NYSNA is with you! Nurses around the country are with you! Your fight for health equity is our fight and we won’t stop until we win a fair contract for the H+H and Mayorals nurses and health equity for ALL! " 

NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane, RN, said: "This fight is not just the public sector nurses' fight. This is a fight for the members of the communities they serve, day and night, 24/7, 365. This is a fight for all of us, and that's why today we are calling on the management of H+H to support these nurses and bargain a fair contract!"

Council members expressed their commitment to supporting this contract fight and shared personal accounts of their connection to nurses, both as patients and family members.

“My late mother was a nurse at Harlem Hospital for over 30 years, and when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it felt like she didn’t have the care she needed despite providing New Yorkers with care her whole career. A fair contract will give our public sector nurses the care and compassion they deserve, while they show us that same care and compassion every single day,” said Council Member Crystal Hudson. And Council Member Shahana Hanif shared the deep care she received as a lupus patient by nurses who ensured her Bangla-speaking parents understood her condition and healthcare needs.

After the speak-out, nurses marched on the boss, approaching the entrance of H+H headquarters by the hundreds calling for management to meet with them. While management did not come out and meet with nurses, nurses made sure their demands for safe staffing and a fair contract were heard loud and clear. They sealed the action with a promise as they chanted, “We’ll be back.”