NEW YORK, N.Y.—In a deal one union official called “historic,” the New York State Nurses Association announced a tentative contract agreement April 9 with three leading hospital systems that will set minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.
If ratified, the four-year contract with the Mount Sinai, Montefiore, and New York Presbyterian hospital systems will lead to the hiring of more than 1,450 nurses, including filling about 800 vacant positions. The actual nurse-to-patient ratios would be negotiated after ratification, “based on safe staffing ratios that will be included in the collective bargaining agreements and enforced by an independent neutral party,” the union said.
“We now have a voice in the process and a real say and a real mechanism in which to challenge patterns of staffing shortages and to get those rectified,” NYSNA first vice president Anthony Ciampa said in a statement.
NYSNA spokesperson Carl Ginsburg told LaborPress he wasn’t sure when the vote on ratification would be scheduled.
The proposed contract would also raise salaries by 3% a year, retroactive to the previous agreement’s expiration last Dec. 31. The union said it would also increase tuition reimbursement and retiree health benefits, include new guidelines to stop workplace violence, and establish a process to improve safe patient handling.
Staffing has long been a concern of the more than 10,000 nurses NYSNA represents at New York-Presbyterian, Mount Sinai, and Montefiore. In December 2016, the union held a bake sale outside Montefiore’s main hospital in the north Bronx to dramatize its demand for hiring more nurses. With some 200 vacancies on its staff, “we are working short-staffed every single day,” head pediatric nurse Patricia Veintemilla told LaborPress at the time. In the intensive-care unit, said Michelle Gonzalez, there’s supposed to be a ratio of one nurse for every two patients, but “we’re chronically seeing one-to-three for critically ill patients.”
With the hospital chains resisting setting ratios on the grounds of “flexibility,” NYSNA members voted almost unanimously in early March to authorize a strike. It later set an April 2 strike deadline, but postponed it after the New York City Hospital Alliance, the trade group representing the three hospital chains, indicated it was prepared to make concessions.
The union will now turn its attention to what Ginsburg calls a “parallel effort” lobbying for the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, a bill that would “make minimum nurse-to-patient ratios a matter of New York State law.” It would set the maximum number of patients per nurse at one in operating rooms, trauma-emergency facilities, and for women giving birth; at two in intensive-care units; at three in emergency rooms and newborn-baby nurseries; and at four in regular medical-surgical wards and acute-care psychiatric units.
The bill, introduced in every legislative session since 2013, was passed by the Assembly in 2016, but did not get a committee hearing in the state Senate. It also failed to make it out of committee in either house in the 2017-18 session.
This year, it has been stuck in committee since January, but that may change now that the state budget, due April 1, has been passed. The Senate version (S1032), sponsored by Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), has 24 cosponsors. The Assembly version (A2954), sponsored by former nurse Aileen M. Gunther (D-Sullivan), has 72 cosponsors and 28 multisponsors.
Other unions backing the measure include the New York State AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America District 1, the Public Employees Federation, New York State United Teachers, and 1199SEIU.