NEW YORK NURSE: November/December 2011
by Bernie Mulligan
More than 200 New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and city mayoral agency nurses brought their fight for a fair contract to New York’s City Hall in early December.
Filling a city street despite a driving rain, NYSNA members heard messages of support from representatives of other city unions, NYSNA leaders from the city’s private hospitals who are also in tough contract fights, and HHC leaders, like Anne Bové from Bellevue and Jackie Gilbert from Harlem Hospital.
Union musicians from Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians buoyed the crowd’s spirits.
The nurses stood together with their supporters and allies, defending the city’s public hospital system. In a city with poverty rates approaching 40% in some boroughs, quality public health care is an important key to community well-being.
“We are the city’s healthcare system,” said Bové. “We demand quality staffing for our patients, affordable health care for our nurses and our families, and decent wages for our demanding work.”
The rally received significant media coverage, with many nurses’ stories being heard by thousands of New Yorkers on major media outlets.
“Through the last few years, with St. Vincent’s and other hospitals closing, we’ve had a steady increase of patients coming through our emergency room, “ Grace Otto, a Bellevue nurse and member of the union’s Board of Directors, told New York 1 News. “This creates a staffing challenge, so we’re here tonight to make the mayor aware that we need better staffing levels for patient safety.”
That call was echoed by Carol Wisener, a nurse from North Central Bronx, who told WCBS-TV, “We’re the ones at the bedside with these patients. We’re the most trusted people in the work force, yet we don’t get justice.”
The issue of fair wages for their hard work was not far from members’ minds. The nurses have not had a pay raise in three years, and talks with city negotiators are dragging.
“The cost of living is so high, and we’ve got nothing,” said Tola Shuaib, a NYSNA member. “We are working so hard taking care of New York, but nobody’s taking care of us.”
Members of the NYSNA Board of Directors – Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez from Montefiore and Pat Kane from Staten Island University Hospital-North – brought messages of solidarity from their members.
Other strong support messages came from Harry Nespoli from the NYC Municipal Labor Committee, Janela Hinds from the United Federation of Teachers and New York City Central Labor Council, Dr. Barry Liebowitz from the Doctors Council/SEIU, Judy Wessler from the Commission on the Public’s Health System, and Barbara Edmonds from DC 37 AFSCME, the large city workers union.