NYSNA nurses celebrated this November when the last of key contracts at Catholic Health Services of Long Island (CHS) were overwhelmingly ratified and safer staffing won the day. Safe staffing has been a top priority for NYSNA nurses at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and St. Charles Hospital, where nurses overloaded with patients have struggled daily to provide the highest quality care. A third CHS hospital — St. Joseph Hospital — had already signed on for safe staffing and other NYSNA demands in June. The November agreements sealed the deal with CHS.
Twelve hundred NYSNA nurses at CHS fought hard to make their voices heard. In May, they held an informational picket at Rockville Centre Diocesan offices to drive home the need for safe staffing to CHS management and show their commitment to the community. (The Diocese oversees CHS). “I believe the solidarity of all the nurses paved the way for a contract that enforces adequate RN staffing essential to quality patient care,” said Cheryl Paolone, RN, Maternity/NICU, St. Charles Hospital.
Wakeup call for management
In the end, however, agreements were reached with St. Catherine and St. Charles only after nurses at these two hospitals voted to authorize strikes. According to Tracy Kosciuk, RN and St. Charles LBU President, “Management woke up and realized that nurses were willing to wage a two-day strike over patient safety. We never had to go this far before. We were unified and 100% serious in wanting a resolution that enables us to care for our patients in the safest, most effective manner possible.”
As a result, NYSNA RN negotiating teams were well-positioned. Management agreed to the high levels of staffing standards, fair wages and benefits. Staffing improvements included additional nurse hires, tighter contract language and stronger staffing enforcement mechanisms.
Wages at the two hospitals remained regionally competitive with annual across-the-board increases. Contracts included improved tuition reimbursement and differentials for education, certification, charge, on-call and preceptor pay. Both hospitals added all important experience steps to help retain senior nurses. At St. Catherine, attempts by management to change nurse pensions were stymied.
The fight to maintain health benefits, another key priority, also won out. CHS wanted new health insurance carriers as well as substantial increases in premium sharing and other out-of-pocket costs. At both hospitals, NYSNA negotiating committees preserved existing health plan design, coinsurance, maximum out-of-pocket caps and deductibles. “I credit our negotiating committee for their relentless commitment and diligent hard work that allowed us to reach a fair bargaining agreement,” said Ms. Paolone.
The contracts were ratified separately. At St. Catherine, nurses voted overwhelmingly on November 4 for a new four-year contract, and at St. Charles Hospital, 98 percent of NYSNA nurses said yes on November 9 to a new agreement.
The victory is a testament to the unity of NYSNA nurses within their own hospitals and within the CHS network. “Nurses at St. Catherine are always willing to stand up for safe patient care,” said Tammy Miller, RN and executive committee member at St. Catherine. For Ms. Kosciuk, “The experience of working with NYSNA members from other CHS hospitals opened doors and established lines of communication that will stay open and active going forward.”