NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2010
by Randi Hoffman
Nurses at Brooklyn Hospital Center were not about to give in.
During contract negotiations which ran several months, management tried many strategies to force the nurses to accept a “pay for performance” plan that would tie RNs’ pay to patient satisfaction questionnaires. The RNs said “no.”
“We stood our ground. We refused to budge,” said Shakiru Habeeb, membership coordinator for the bargaining unit. “The members were behind us 100 percent. Pay for performance is just a bad idea.”
Pay for performance was originally developed as an incentive program for factory workers, and even in that setting, research has concluded that pay for performance programs are not effective in generating increased productivity. In a healthcare setting, where the top priority is quality patient care, pay for performance is not an appropriate compensation strategy.
“After educating our members on the pitfalls of pay for performance, they were enraged,” said Susanne Calvello, senior associate director of NYSNA’s Economic and General Welfare Program. NYSNA’s position was that the best way to improve patient outcomes and patient satisfaction is to increase nurse-to-patient ratios, not to “bribe” nurses.
The nurses placed ads in local newspapers and on bus shelters and picketed outside the facility. Educational flyers distributed to the public during the picket stated: “Nurses are not assembly line workers! Patients are not auto parts!”
“All these activities demonstrated to the hospital that we would not accept compensation tied to a patient survey,” said Elaine Charpentier, the NYSNA labor representative.
When it was clear the nurses would not accept pay for performance, hospital management began a last-ditch effort to implement an initiative, called “service excellence.” They requested the nurses sit on employer-sponsored committees on productivity, patient outcomes, and peer-to-peer review, which is not permissible in a collective bargaining unit. But the nurses saw through this tactic, and it, too, was defeated.
“This committee stood up to management and endured long and hard negotiations,” said NYSNA associate director Roberta Murphy.
Early in the fight, NYSNA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Brooklyn Hospital when it began implementing pay for performance over NYSNA’s objections. In the final process of negotiating a contract, NYSNA dropped the charge.
“We crafted an agreement with the hospital, stating that we all believe in improved patient care. Everything was resolved, and both sides decided to turn the page for a fresh start,” said Charpentier. On June 9, Brooklyn Hospital nurses ratified an 18-month contract.