On a typical day, an Onondaga County public health nurse may drive a hundred miles, traveling into Syracuse to monitor a woman with a complex pregnancy, getting back in her car to drive to conduct an assessment of an infant with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and ending the day administering flu shots or immunizations to children in yet another area.
“Most of our patients are those that no one else will see: the disenfranchised, the uninsured, the underinsured,” said Linda Geariety, RN, and LBU Vice President. The nurses travel throughout the county’s 800 square miles and 60 municipalities and provide services in many low-income and isolated areas.
Each has a caseload of about 40 patients that must be seen at least once every two weeks. “We work with so much autonomy that being part of a strong union is really essential. Because of NYSNA, we know can stand up for our patients and insist on doing our jobs in a safe manner,” said Wendy Czajak, RN and Onondaga LBU President.
Public supports nurses
At a February 2nd bargaining session, 18 nurses presented two petitions to Carl Hummel, the county’s chief negotiator. The first included more than 2,000 signatures gathered at last September’s New York State Fair and called on all Central New York providers, including Onondaga County, to staff safely and negotiate fair and equitable nurse contracts.
The second petition, signed by the bargaining unit’s members, states that the nurses are committed to winning a fair contract with the county.
The Onondaga County Executive and Legislature voted in 2015 to give themselves a substantial pay raise but have lagged on settling the nurses’ union contract. NYSNA RNs have mobilized and united like never before to send a strong message to management: it’s time to settle a fair contract with the nurses who care for the county’s residents.
New negotiating approach
LBU President Wendy Czajak said that they had made progress in key areas that would help retain skilled RNs, and that nurses are committed to staying united until the contract is settled.
“This is the first time we’ve involved so many nurses in the bargaining process, and I suspect it’s come as a shock to some in management. They’re not accustomed to dealing with a large group of nurse activists,” Ms. Czajak said.