New York Nurses: Don’t Celebrate, Negotiate!

Several hundred nurses assembled on May 11 for a spirited, colorful protest in front of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The rally coincided with Nurses Week, an annual celebration that runs from May 6 to May 12, Florence Nightingale's birthday.

The RNs were protesting the hospital's hard-line approach to negotiations for its 2,600 RNs, whose contract expired in January 2009. The Medical Empire, the Bronx's largest employer, with lucrative real estate holdings, continues to make money while most health facilities are in the red. It is using the economic climate and the ill-intentioned Pension Protection Act (PPA) to coerce nurses into accepting unprecedented concessions on active and retiree health care and into bearing the burden of PPA-generated costs of their defined-benefit pensions.

The nurses refuse to cave in to such givebacks and are battling for better conditions for patients, who are crowded like sardines in Emergency Rooms and admitted to "the Hallway" on patient units. The hospital has countered RN demands for safer staffing by insisting that improvements in nurse/patient ratios would have to be financed by nurses' sacrificing their own wage increases.

The event was put together in one week by New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) bargaining unit leaders, members, and local union reps. The nurses boycotted the hospital's Nurses Week activities, goodies, and trinkets with the slogan "Don't Celebrate, Negotiate!" Rankled hospital administrators pleaded with them to call the boycott off.



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In efforts to broaden the struggle beyond the contract, rally speakers included Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelson, representing the city’s transit workers, and Pastor Doug Cunningham. Both called for workers and communities to stick together to take on CEOs (Montefiore's gets $4.3 million annually), Wall Street, and their political hacks--those responsible for the financial crisis in the first place.

This approach to defending workers and communities from devastating cuts will hopefully encourage other union locals to refuse to fight over crumbs but instead demand the entire pie. After all, they are the ones who baked it.

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, is president of the NYSNA Montefiore/Moses-CHAM Divisions.