I know this communication reaches you at a precarious time. Nationally, there are rising concerns about the delta variant and fear that the return to normalcy we anticipated this summer is a long way off. Across the country, there’s anxiety over the safety of children and young adults returning to school. Locally, there’s intense focus on the impact of the vaccine mandate on nurses, patients, and health care systems already stressed with short staffing.
In some bargaining units, there are new contracts to celebrate while in others, there are upcoming contracts to bargain. Either way, we are in a unique moment with multiple issues competing for our time and attention. Given this reality, I do not take your indulgence in this communication lightly. I do not take your involvement in your union for granted either. While you could have easily checked out, you have checked in.
Acknowledge the Past
There is no question that the past year has been filled with challenges; both professional and personal. Many of us have faced things that we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago: treating patients in a worldwide pandemic, dealing with understaffing and staff departures entirely, identifying alternative care for children as schools temporarily closed their doors, etc.
Despite a bruising and intense period, we are still here. We are still fighting. We are still trying. We are still hoping. That in and of itself is cause for celebration.
More importantly, some of the things we have spent years organizing for, are finally coming to fruition. The safe staffing law didn’t emerge out of thin air. You spent years organizing, rallying, calling elected leaders, showing up to insist on a baseline staffing law. Our work is not finished, but we are further than when we started. Sure, the present moment is tense. But if we vow to continue moving forward, we will impact change.
As we process all that we have overcome, we must not lose sight of the future. We have an incredible opportunity before us. With a new crop of elected leaders who appear interested in addressing the needs of labor, our communities may finally get what they need to thrive. If President Biden’s Build Back Better Act passes, the nation would see the most expansive investment in the social safety net that has been seen in 50 years. There would be a real shot at improving Medicare, childcare assistance, paid family and medical leave, education, living wage jobs, and action on the climate emergency.
Separately, if we continue our advocacy with local, state and federal officials, we will be better positioned to get what we, our patients and communities need. We have begun cultivating a relationship with U.S. Senators. Kristin Gillibrand, Majority Leader Charles Schumer, and allies in U.S. House of Representatives. We are doing this not to rub elbows with the powerful; but to ensure our issues are front and center.
All of this demonstrates an important lesson: our fights matter. They require a lot of time and effort. But we can see progress. For instance, our highest levels of government have put forth an agenda to rebuild our communities. They are responding to the pleas of ordinary people, and we have been on the ground helping to amplify those voices. Locally, our organizing around the crisis at Rikers Island is finally gaining momentum with local and state officials finally beginning to take action to address the inhumane conditions there.
Look to the Future
As we head into the final quarter of the year, I invite you to take stock of where we are and where we are going. But I hope you’ll do this in the company of your union siblings. You can do this by joining me and your fellow members at NYSNA’s annual convention. While the convention is virtual, there is an in-person option at the Sheraton Times Square. This year’s theme is “Together We Rise: United for Our Patients, Our Practice, and a Just Recovery for All.”
What You Can Expect
A big part of the workshops leading up to convention focused on creating staffing committees and the tools we’ll need to implement the landmark staffing legislation NYSNA helped to pass earlier this year. We also offered a series of workshops to help sharpen members’ skillsets and better position you for the fights we’ll face in the coming months.
Our convention is where our delegates will set a blueprint for actions we will take together as a union. As of this writing, or reading if this publication is in your hands, NYSNA’s Board of Directors is reviewing a host of resolutions that were submitted by delegates. The resolutions will be considered by our larger delegate body, and include a broad range of topics that affect nursing practice, working conditions, collective bargaining, public policy and the health of the communities we serve. The high level of engagement demonstrated by their submissions is a powerful testament to the passion and commitment of our elected leaders and delegate body. This is the kind of energy we must carry with us in the days to come. Of course, this is a marathon not a sprint.
Given all that we have faced—losing friends and loved ones to COVID-19, understaffing, health and safety concerns, social injustice, and hospital unit closures—it is understandable that many healthcare professionals may be worn down. But collective action, unity and unrelenting hope for the future will carry us through. There is no question that we must heal from the trauma of the past few years. But it is easier to do that when we remain united. I look forward to remaining in this work with each of you. I also look forward to celebrating and strategizing with you at convention.
Thank you being, and staying, on this journey.