Capital District union and community members honored the spirit of Labor Day at a picnic and rally for NYSNA nurses fighting for a fair contract at Albany Medical Center (AMC).
Nurses at Albany Med have been negotiating their first contract with AMC management for more than two years.
The arrival of COVID-19 provided cover for management, who publicly celebrated nurses as heroes, while silencing their safety concerns and cutting their hours, staffing, and salaries—all behind closed doors.
During the worst of the initial COVID-19 surge, AMC was short on staffing and short on supplies.
“We can no longer wait patiently… We must have a voice. We must have respect. We must have a fair contract,” said Jen Bejo, RN, a nurse leader at Albany Med.
NYSNA nurses from Ellis and Bellevue Hospitals, who recently settled a contract that sets the labor union standard for the Capital Region, spoke out in solidarity (see page 18).
Cathy Dawson, RN, a nurse leader at Ellis Hospital, said, “I used to work at Albany Med, so I know firsthand how they have historically treated nurses poorly. As a large academic medical center, they should be setting the standard for nursing care. At Ellis, we just won an amazing contract because we were persistent—we didn’t back down or give up. We know the Albany Med nurses can do the same, and we Ellis nurses are here in solidarity for as long as it takes.”
A supermajority of the 2,000 nurses at Albany Medical Center voted to authorize a strike if negotiations with the hospital continue to stall.
Nurses turn up the heat
A mobile billboard circled the hospital and Albany Med President and CEO Dennis McKenna’s house, part of a larger campaign that has generated hundreds of emails and phone calls to McKenna, demanding he show respect for COVID nurse heroes and settle a fair contract. Keep those calls coming and the pressure on, say nurses.
Among those present at the rally raising the cry: Congressman Paul Tonko, Assembly Member Carrie Woerner, Assembly Member Phil Steck, Assembly Member Pat Fahey, Assembly Member Angelo Santabarbara, Assembly Member John McDonald III, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany City Treasurer Darius Shanfir, North Greenbush Councilwoman Mary Frances Sabo, members of the Capital District Labor Federation, Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Albany County Central Federation of Labor, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Pride@Work, The Solidarity Committee, and Albany Teachers Association/NYSUT as well as community members from the Albany NAACP, Citizen Action, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, Working Families Party, and Veterans for Peace.
Back to the table
The nurses at Albany Med now head back to the bargaining table to fight for safe staffing, wage increases, affordable health insurance, and better health and safety measures for nurses and patients.
Behind them: the collective muscle of a steadfast coalition of community members, activists, unions and politicians. Albany County Legislator Dustin Reidy put it this way: “Two years ago they [nurses] voted overwhelmingly to unionize and still AMC refuses to negotiate a fair contract. I’ll keep standing with our nurses as they will always stand and take care of us in our time of deepest need.”
Capital District Area Labor Federation President Mike Blue added: “The Capital District Area Labor Federation and all of our affiliates, members and families stand 100% behind the NYSNA nurses at Albany Med. On this Labor Day, we say fair contract now.
Albany Med nurses, families and taxpayers deserve better
Albany Med nurses participated in an online survey to assess their current health insurance plan. The survey results are in—and show that Albany Med’s family coverage is inadequate and unaffordable.
- 30% of nurses do not get health insurance through Albany Medical Center.
- Among nurses with children under 18, 53% do not get their children’s health insurance through Albany Medical Center.
- Among nurses with children, 22% have children who receive health insurance through Child Health Plus.
One nurse shared in the survey comments: “Child Health Plus is cheaper & better than the AMC family plan. The family plan is very expensive.”
AMC’s high cost family care also puts nurses’ kid’s health at risk. Another commented said, “I am simply delaying all the health care issues of my children, as I simply cannot afford it under this insurance.”
Unfortunately, when Albany Med cuts corners on its nurses’ health, taxpayers pick up the tab. Because Child Health Plus is New York’s state-subsidized Medicaid program, AMC is costing taxpayers every year just to cover nurses’ children.
It is irresponsible and unacceptable for Albany Med to treat its healthcare professionals this way. That’s why nurses are fighting back at the bargaining table to win the respect and decent benefits they and their families deserve.