Nurses strike at Mount Sinai at Montefiore Medical Center

NEW YORK. Nurses at two of New York’s largest hospitals went on strike Monday over a dispute over wages and staffing levels after weekend talks failed to land a new contract.

The strike involves 3,500 nurses at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and about 3,600 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Patients are likely to experience interruptions in care, such as emergency room visits and childbirth.

The New York State Nursing Association, which represents the workers, said it was forced to take a drastic step due to chronic staffing shortages that have left them caring for too many patients.

Hundreds of striking nurses chanted, waved signs and sang the chorus from Twisted Sister’s 1984 hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on Monday morning near Mount Sinai on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

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“Just two years ago, we were heroes,” Warren Urquhart, a transplant and oncology nurse, said, referring to the height of the COVID-19 crisis. “We were on the front line in the city when everything stopped. And now we need to stop so they can understand how much we mean to this hospital and patients.”

Nurse Practitioner Juliet Escalon said: “We used to be so-called heroes, now how do you feel about heroes?”

A union statement late Sunday evening said: “Nurses don’t want to strike. The bosses pushed us to go on strike by refusing to seriously consider our proposals to address the desperate crisis of unsafe staff who are harming our patients.”

Montefiore officials said in a statement on Monday: “We remain committed to a smooth and compassionate care, recognizing that the union leadership’s decision will create fear and uncertainty in our community.”

On Monday, Mount Sinai said: “Our top priority is the safety of our patients. We are committed to minimizing disruption and encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue providing the world-class care they are known for despite the NYSNA strike.”

The hospitals planned to appoint managers and others not represented by the union to relieve the striking workers.

Montefiore and Mount Sinai prepared for the strike by transferring patients, diverting ambulances to other facilities, postponing non-emergency medical procedures and organizing temporary staff.

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Gov. Katie Hochul urged the union and hospitals to take their dispute to binding arbitration late Sunday night.

Montefiore’s administration said it was willing to allow an arbitrator to settle the contract “as a means to achieve a fair outcome.”

The union did not immediately accept this proposal. The statement said that Hochul, a Democrat, “should listen to the frontline COVID nurse heroes and respect our state-protected labor and collective bargaining rights.”

Montefiore and Mount Sinai are the latest in a group of hospitals whose contracts expired at the same time. The Nurses Association initially warned that it would hit them all at the same time — a potential disaster even in a city with as many hospitals as New York.

But as the deadline approached, other hospitals made agreements with the union.

Nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on Saturday ratified an agreement that will give them 7%, 6% and 5% raises over the next three years, as well as more staff. This deal, which covers 4,000 nurses, was seen as a template for negotiations with other hospital systems.

Nurses at two facilities in the Mount Sinai system also tentatively agreed to contracts on Sunday. But negotiations continued at the system’s main hospital on the East Side of Manhattan.

Mount Sinai said in a statement that the union’s focus on staff-to-patient ratios “ignores the progress we’ve made in attracting and hiring new nurses despite the global health worker shortage that’s affecting hospitals across the country.”

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