Ellis/Bellevue Nurses Refused to Be Intimidated in Their Fight for Patient Safety

Ellis Bellevue Contract Victory 2024

Nurses throughout New York have seen this story play out multiple times across the state: A healthcare corporation buys or merges with a community hospital, resulting in cuts to healthcare services, “consolidation” (more cuts) of resources, chronic understaffing, and less investment in recruiting and retaining nurses and
healthcare workers. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster for nurses and patients.

When Ellis Hospital and Bellevue Woman’s Center entered a merger agreement with St. Peter’s Health Partners in December 2021, an arm of one of the wealthiest and most powerful Catholic hospital corporations, Trinity Health, NYSNA nurses feared for their patients and their community.1

Their concerns were proven right when, in 2022, Ellis Medicine paused overnight emergent care services at the Clifton Park location and abruptly closed the inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit for six months with two days’ notice, causing the New York State’s Office of Mental Health to get involved.2

Bargaining for Their Community

When nurses’ contract expired in 2023, they saw an opportunity to ensure their new contract protected patients by making investing in safe patient care a top priority. They also fought back against service closures at another St. Peter’s facility, the Burdett Birth Center in Troy. Nurses from Ellis Hospital and Bellevue Woman’s Center spoke out against this closure at various community forums and sounded the alarm about the impact the closure would have for reproductive and maternal care in the capital region. In April 2024, St. Peter’s announced Burdett would remain open — a victory for nurses, the community and reproductive healthcare.

At the bargaining table, however, Ellis management continued to drag out contract negotiations — actually proposing a decrease in nurse staffing.

Ellis/Bellevue nurses knew they needed the community’s support and began organizing outside their facilities. Nurses garnered support by leafletting local businesses, attending Schenectady City Council meetings, and calling on labor and community allies to join them at an informational picket on April 16.

Nurses Speak Out and Fight Back

Hundreds of Ellis/Bellevue nurses and fellow capital region NYSNA nurses from Albany Medical Center and Nathan Littauer Hospital attended the picket alongside local labor, elected, and community leaders, including the Capital District Area Labor Federation, New York State United Teachers, New York State Council of Churches, NYS Labor Religion Coalition, Black Nurses Coalition, Assembly Member Angelo Santabarbara, and Schenectady County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich.

The clear display of power and solidarity galvanized nurses to continue fighting for the contract they deserve. Ellis management responded by failing to offer meaningful proposals and instead resorted to threatening nurses for exercising their union rights. In May, Ellis began sending several messages claiming it has been forced to limit access to the hospital due to “safety” concerns, increasing security to prevent members from speaking to each other about their rights. They also accused nurses of “bullying” their peers, even asking them to leave hospital premises while they were speaking to co-workers during their breaks. NYSNA nurses fought back against these outrageous claims and unlawful behavior and have filed unfair labor practice charges against Ellis management for breaking federal labor law and interfering with their rights.

Nurses have a message for Ellis management: Nurses are patient advocates, not bullies! This became clear in late May when, in a huge victory for Ellis nurses, a New York State arbitrator found that Ellis has consistently and pervasively failed to follow the safe staffing standards stipulated in the NYSNA contract. The arbitrator ordered Ellis to compensate nurses working in units affected by short staffing whose workloads significantly increased because of the hospital’s violations. This marked the first time a neutral, third-party arbitrator has awarded financial restitution for hospital understaffing to NYSNA nurses in an upstate New York hospital.

Management’s attempt to intimidate and silence nurses was met with nurses uniting more than ever to fight for safe staffing and the fair contract that nurses and their patients deserve. On May 28, nurses announced the result of their strike vote, with 94% voting to approve a three-day unfair labor practice strike, if necessary. After a week of intense negotiations, Ellis/Bellevue nurses won a new contract with no givebacks and with significant wage increases and hiring and retention incentives. When we fight, we win!

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