Speaking with one voice for patient care

Sometimes 25 babies can be assigned to just three nurses in the nursery where Jennifer Gunderman works. Often many of them are NICU babies requiring two-on-one attention.

Jennifer is a NICU nurse at Bellevue Woman’s Center near Schenectady. “That’s not the kind of care we’re used to giving,” she says.

“Some nurses used to shrug their shoulders and say ‘What can we do about it?’” recalls Jennifer. “We realized we if we were going to be heard, we needed to join NYSNA. We needed to speak with one voice.”

And so they did in their 92-18 vote on Dec. 3 to join our union.

Promises broken

When Bellevue merged with Ellis Hospital in 2008, nurses thought about joining NYSNA.

Nurses at the main Ellis campus have been NYSNA members since the 1960s. But Ellis management promised Bellevue nurses they would always get the same pay and benefits as Ellis nurses – if they did not join NYSNA.

This year, management broke that promise. They cut paid time off for Bellevue RNs. They delayed a pay raise. And when they decided to restructure units and the hospital’s care delivery model, they refused to listen to nurses’ experience and concerns.

“We’re on the front lines. We’re important,” said Paula Platt, an RN at Bellevue. “But management saw us as expendable.”

Nurses at Bellevue could not stand by quietly: They started talking about joining the union. Carol Ann Lemon, central regional director on NYSNA’s board and an RN at Ellis, began meeting with Bellevue nurses to help plan their organizing campaign.

A majority of nurses signed a petition calling on management to recognize the union. A speak out in October got significant attention in the local news. Local elected officials called on Ellis management to sit down with nurses.

Management finally agreed to respect the results of a vote, although it actively encouraged nurses to vote no.

Nurses stayed focused on the issues. On election day, nearly 90 percent turned out to vote: The vast majority chose NYSNA.

NYSNA’s mission

Nurses at more than half of hospitals in upstate New York don’t have a union. This hurts every nurse, making it harder to win strong contracts and to pass a safe staffing law.

NYSNA’s board recently created the New Organizing Department to help build our union and improve conditions for all nurses statewide by bringing nonunion nurses into NYSNA. The win at Bellevue Woman’s Center is the first fruit of this labor.

As Carol Ann Lemon put it when the results were announced: “NYSNA is on a mission to change healthcare for the better, to put patients before profits, to stop those who’d cut patient care to pad the bottom line, and to ensure every New Yorker has access to quality care.

“Our voice is stronger because of today’s vote.”

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