NEW YORK NURSE: November/December 2011
by Winifred Z. Kennedy, MSN PMH-CNS, BC
I’ve worked in a non-unionized hospital, a hospital represented by another union, and for the past 30 years, a hospital represented by NYSNA. What can really make NYSNA hospitals different is the focus on professional issues and the camaraderie of being part of a nursing community in which everyone’s contributions are valued and talents utilized.
But recognition of nurses’ value isn’t just something management gives us – it’s something we fight for collectively. As this issue goes to press, many of our colleagues are facing the effects of a volatile economy with layoffs, potential facility closures, and changes in healthcare reimbursement. A growing number of consumers are without health insurance and staffing ratios are at risk in many bargaining units. Many graduate nurses are finding they may have to look outside of their communities for first jobs and many experienced nurses have job insecurity, even in the midst of a nursing shortage.
For many of us, this round of contract negotiations has been more contentious than usual. With the recession, management thought it had the upper hand. We have a political climate that encourages restricting and eliminating collective bargaining rights, pensions, and healthcare benefits. In the face of this “perfect storm,” some nurses have voted to strike – if that’s what it takes to get a fair contract.
A decision to strike is a difficult one for nurses. We know the chaos created when management forces us to walk out to defend our livelihoods and working conditions. We know the value of our work – patients cared for, educated, comforted, saved. Nurses continue to be named the most trusted profession because of our willingness to advocate for quality healthcare. But sometimes, management needs to be reminded.
If management knows we’ll carry through with a strike threat, it helps all of us at the table. But the rest of us shouldn’t watch this strike from the sidelines. It should be a collective action of all NYSNA members, 37,000 strong. Whether lobbying for safe staffing levels, protesting layoffs and closures, or fighting to be heard at the bargaining table, we need to work together to maintain professional standards. Come walk the picket line or check nysna.org for ways to get involved.
We also need to be vigilant in our own workplaces, to ensure that RN jobs are not deskilled and job titles remain unionized – especially new jobs outside the hospital environment.
As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I want to share with you Dr. King’s words from his Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
These are challenging times for NYSNA, but as our past presidents reminded us at Convention, we’ve always met challenges best when we’re unified, focusing on what’s best for the profession and our patients.
Wishing you a joyful holiday season, and a happy and healthy 2012.