Building RN advocacy

Promise Nwankpa, RN, Harlem Hospital (left), led her table’s discussion during the afternoon workshop on grievances.

NYSNA nurses from across New York gathered in the Hudson Valley on March 8, International Women’s Day, for the union’s first ever Conference for RN Advocates. The day’s panels and workshops were structured to further develop the educational, organizing, and advocacy skills that participants had gained through completing NYSNA’s two-part Member Leader (i.e. stewards) Training program.

In all, more than 200 LBU leaders, delegates, Unit Reps, Safe Staffing Captains, and members of local union committees on professional practice, legislative advocacy and health and safety shared experiences and strategies for protecting patients and professional standards in a healthcare system that increasingly values profit over quality care and in light of the threats to labor unions posed by the Friedrich’s case recently before the Supreme Court.

The power of unity

Peguy Ceneus, an RN in Montefiore Medical Center/Lucy Moses Division’s Pediatric ICU, was excited to be there. “The contract campaign last year opened my eyes to the potential of what nurses can do when we’re united. We saw our power first hand when we took a stand on staffing and got the hospital to hire more nurses.”

Ms. Ceneus enrolled in NYSNA stewards training earlier this year. “I loved the energy and learned so much about my union — especially about how it goes way beyond filing grievances.” She plans on using her new training to help coworkers recapture and redirect the energy from the contract campaign into winning safe staffing. “The contract campaign was such a motivating experience. I’m trying to find ways to keep that fire alive.”

Finding ways to keep members engaged was also one of the reasons that Yasmin Bahar, an RN on the NYSNA Executive Committee at NY Presbyterian attended. “During the contract campaign and negotiations, members saw a clear path for getting involved. Now that we’ve settled and won wonderful contract language, they’re unsure about how to stay engaged and effect change.” She hoped to come away from the training with ideas for addressing that issue. “I suspect that lack of engagement is contributing to poor retention at my hospital. I think working together and using the strong contract language we won would empower nurses and lead to lower turnover.”

Campaign approach

In her morning presentation, President Judy Sheridan–Gonzalez, RN, addressed unsafe staffing and other challenges and urged nurse leaders to use a campaign approach within NYSNA facilities and communities to take on big picture issues. “Nurses are most effective and powerful when we engage, organize and build campaigns around issues of importance,” citing the success of the recent contract, POA and Safe Staffing Captain campaigns.

Lunch speakers focused on achieving passage the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act in the current legislative term. Several Westchester County Legislators spoke on their efforts to achieve a county resolution to encourage the State Assembly and Senate to pass the bill.

Lea Nason, a Pediatric Oncology RN at Westchester Medical Center and a new member of the WMC Executive Committee, is committed to seeing the bill become law: “My goal is to take my advocacy past my unit, past my hospital, and into my community. Legislation is the only way to ensure that all New York’s hospitals staff properly.” Ms. Nason spends considerable time and effort educating patients and meeting with community groups to build a grassroots coalition to support the safe staffing law.

Member Leader Training is open to all interested NYSNA members. Since 2012, more than a thousand members have completed the two-part training. Contact your NYSNA Rep for more information, and the 2016 schedule is listed on the website ( under “Upcoming Events.”

Marjorie Peguero, an RN at Montefiore Medical Center’s Weiler Division, credits the training with helping her mature as a nurse. “I’ve learned how to express my opinions in a professional manner and how to approach management as an equal when addressing problems on my Unit. Plus, it’s given me an outlet for dealing with bigger challenges like staffing.”

Specific action plans

By the end of the day, each participant had made a specific action plan for taking the skills and lessons they learned back to their facilities and engaging their coworkers. Desiree Gibbons, RN at St. Joseph Medical Center in Yonkers, aptly summed up the day’s many activities and workshops: “The most important thing I came away with today is that there is tremendous strength in unity.”

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