NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2008
by Randi Hoffman
After months of intense effort and negotiation, the RNs at St. Charles Hospital in Suffolk County, Long Island, ratified a three-year contract on June 30 that provides them with several first-time benefits. The previous contract expired in March.
The new contract, which covers more than 300 RNs, documents agreed-upon nurse-to-patient ratios for each unit, a first at St. Charles. In addition to the current retiree health benefit for nurses 60 to 65, the contract provides a post-retirement monetary stipend for supplemental medical necessities for nurses aged 65 to 70.
The contract also immediately institutes the same protections provided under New York State’s new mandatory overtime law, which will go into effect next year. The contract defines the conditions and emergencies under which RNs can be forced to work overtime hours.
But it took some time to achieve these victories. The NYSNA reps and the negotiating team worked diligently for more than three and a half months. “We held several local bargaining unit meetings where we updated members about the state of negotiations and responded to their feedback and suggestions,” said Michele Hart, NYSNA labor representative. “We also did on-sites and we went to each floor and each unit on a pretty regular basis. And lastly, we invited the nurses to come and sit in on several negotiation sessions, so they could have first-hand knowledge of what was going on.”
Hart said that after several months of negotiating sessions with no discussion of economic issues, the nurses decided to picket. On June 13 they held an informational picket in front of the hospital to inform the media and community of their issues. They also sent letters to state officials and St. Charles’ board of directors and began to plan a media advertising campaign.
The nurses reminded the St. Charles management team that they had remained loyal to the hospital through the New York State Berger Commission process. “Nobody abandoned ship. Everybody remained loyal,” said Denise Dedowitz, NYSNA nurse representative for St. Charles. “Management then began to realize how valuable an asset nurses are to the facility.”
The St. Charles nurses also won pay increases of 3% each year and a prepaid tuition to attend schools of nursing for 100% of costs up to a maximum of $3,250.