New York nurses call off strike after hospitals reach agreement

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NEW YORK – Thousands of nurses at two New York City hospitals ended a three-day strike Thursday after union officials agreed to a tentative deal that would ease chronic staffing shortages and raise wages by 19 percent over three years.

Nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center began returning to work Thursday morning. Each of the private, not-for-profit hospitals has more than 1,000 beds and 3,500 or more unionized nurses, all of which are represented by the New York State Nurses Association.

Nurses must vote next week to ratify the conditional agreements, which union president Nancy Hagans called “truly innovative.”

“They have set a new standard for safe staffing, respect and quality care for all,” he said at a news conference.

Mount Sinai said its proposed settlement is “fair and reasonable and puts patients first.” Montefiore, who has agreed to hire 170 more nurses, said nurses are “working to provide the best possible work environment, with significant improvements in wages and benefits.”

“We know this strike has affected everyone, not just our nurses, and we are committed to making decisions as quickly as possible to minimize disruptions to patient care,” Montefiore said in a statement.

The walkout began early Monday, prompting hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, divert many ambulances and send some patients, including infants in intensive care, to Mount Sinai. Temporary nurses and even administrators with clinical training were brought in to fill in, and some patients experienced longer wait times and understaffed units.

The union cited staffing issues as a key issue, saying that nurses who have weathered the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are overworked due to too many job openings. Nurses report having to work overtime, tending to see twice as many patients as necessary and missing meals and even bathroom breaks.

Hospitals say they are struggling with a widespread shortage of nurses exacerbated by the pandemic.

Agreements with hospitals include specific commitments to improve staffing levels and new rules to enforce them, the union said. Hagans suggested that enforcement provisions, which the union did not immediately elaborate on, were a key factor in reaching the agreement early Thursday.

Governor Kathy Hochul welcomed nurses to the Mount Sinai campus in Manhattan this morning. Hochul, a Democrat, described the planned pay raise as appropriate and said the tentative agreement would foster a “work environment that allows us to focus on patient care.”

At Montefiore, the tentative deal includes renovating the emergency room and reopening some closed areas to end a longstanding problem of patients being treated in beds in corridors while waiting for space elsewhere in the hospital. A Bronx institution, Hagans said.

“It was very important to our members not to have patients in the corridor,” he said.

Several other private hospitals in the city have reached an agreement with the union as the strike deadline approaches. The deals also included a 19% raise over three years, which Mount Sinai and Montefiore said they had offered before the strike.

According to the union, the average salary for a registered nurse in the state is about $50 an hour. Exact numbers for Mount Sinai and Montefiore were not immediately available.

At several small private hospitals in the city, negotiations are continuing without a strike. Hagans said he was confident an agreement would be reached soon.

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