It was a record turnout for NYSNA on Lobby Day 2016, a surge of support for safe staffing, with our members leading the way, other unions on hand and supporters cheering us on. Albany heard the message loud and clear, “Safe Staffing Saves Lives!” when 2,000 members from all corners of the state converged on the State Capitol April 13.
NYSNA members visited legislative offices, meeting with state assembly members, senators and staffs. Nurses put forward our case for safe staffing ratios with personal stories and facts and figures on unsafe staffing. They asked uncommitted legislators to support the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.
In the Assembly, the bill recently left the Codes Committee and was sent to Ways and Means, its last stop before a floor vote. Nurses asked the 91 assembly members and 28 senators who already sponsor the bill to redouble their efforts to build needed support in the Senate so a vote can be accomplished this year.
The record turnout is an indication that the bill’s time has come. “California has had its safe staffing law for 12 years. We’re burning out. It’s time for New York,” said Karen Wagner, an RN at Montefiore Children’s Hospital.
A full house
It was the first Lobby Day for her co-worker Clara Wesly-Camach, RN, whose decision to attend came after a particularly harrowing day last December. “We had 4 nurses for 36 patients. The ER was swamped and sent us another patient, a baby that needed constant monitoring and should have never been sent to our floor. He had barely arrived when he coded. I was so thankful that my patients and I survived that day that I vowed to do whatever I could to make sure no one is ever put in that situation again.”
At the lunch session that followed morning office visits, 10 Assembly members spoke in support: Aileen Gunther, RN (the bill’s sponsor), Richard Gottfried, Ellen Jaffee, Shelley Mayer, Angelo Santabarbara, Nick Perry, Phil Steck, Carrie Woerner, Patricia Fahey, and Kenneth Zebrowski. Each vowed to work to pass the bill this session.
Beth Mohle, RN and head of the 57,000-member strong Queensland Nurses’ Union (in Australia), told the room, “I bring a message of solidarity from across the Pacific! Nurses around the world know that safe staffing saves lives!” She spoke about her union’s successful “Ratios Save Lives” campaign that resulted in legislation that will go into effect July 1. She urged NYSNA nurses to stay on course: “All things worth fighting for are long battles. Stay united, speak out, lobby, and I know you will succeed!”
‘Never seen a crowd this big’
Forming a sea of nurses and supporters, the broad halls of the Empire State Plaza Convention Center were full, and nurses made their way through the streets and the park in front of the state senate’s legislative offices. “In all my years in Albany, I have never seen a crowd this big in this park,” Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, told the crowd. Fifteen members and healthcare advocates, other unions and supporters addressed the group.
A CWA worker — on strike against Verizon (see related article) closed the rally, pledging, “We stand behind you, and with you, until you get safe staffing.”
CWA and IBEW workers on strike against Verizon were joined by NYSNA nurses in a throng of support. Senate staffers looked out their windows at the sea of NYSNA red, as the street in front of the senate offices was closed down.
The unity of nurses, legislators and supportive unions was a powerful symbol of the solidarity labor evokes.
Assembly Members said...
Kenneth Zebrowski (D-96)
“Nurse staffing is not an abstract concept. It’s a proven fact that safe staffing improves outcomes and saves lives. It’s about time that we pass this bill!”
Carrie Woerner (D-113)
“You have to raise your voices so the entire Senate hears the message that safe staffing saves lives!”
Aileen Gunther, RN (D-100)
“It took years to get the bill on mandatory overtime, but we did it. Safe staffing has taken years, too, but I’m with you now like I was with you then, and we will do it and do it together.”
Richard Gottfried (D-75)
“The first step is to make a conscious decision to do the right thing, that is to save lives by making sure there are enough nurses. Everything else will fall into place after you make the commitment to do what’s right.”
Angelo Santabarbara (D-111)
“It’s time to pass this bill! It’s long overdue, and it’s common sense. I will push to make sure it comes to a vote this year.”