NEW YORK NURSE: January-February 2011
by Mark Genovese
Registered nurses employed by Sullivan County were appalled to learn that county officials are planning freezes in wage and longevity increases for county employees. Adding insult to injury, county officials say that if nurses don’t agree, many could be laid off.
The 60 RNs charge that Sullivan County government officials are making a unilateral decision to not abide by a legal and binding agreement they negotiated in 2008.
“The county wants to put in place a budget that will result in a serious reduction of its registered nurse workforce,” said Thomas Jennings, NYSNA labor representative. “This makes no sense given the community’s healthcare needs.”
Sullivan County already ranks, in a recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as the second lowest county in the state in terms of health outcomes such as premature death and poor health, and health factors such as smoking, obesity and alcoholism. The county has initiated programs to improve the public’s health – which can only suffer if not adequately staffed.
The current NYSNA contract is actually saving the county money, Jennings added. The NYSNA health plan has proven over the long run to cost the county about $240,000 less per year than the plan county management wanted the nurses to take.
“A contract can help to recruit and retain nurses by protecting workplace standards and conditions of employment,” Jennings said. He noted that the RNs negotiated a five-year contract in 2008 to allow the county to plan ahead and avoid this very problem.
NYSNA has joined with other county employee labor unions in fighting the proposed move. It has already filed several grievances and at press time was considering legal action and improper practice charges.
“A signed contract is a signed contract,” he said “and the county should live up to it.”