Negotiations aimed at averting a nurses strike at two major New York City hospitals went past a midnight deadline with a walk-out by 7,000 nurses looming as soon as 6 a.m. ET Monday.
Tentative deals were reached in recent days covering nurses at seven hospitals, including two hospitals that reached deals late Sunday evening. But Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore in the Bronx were still facing the possibility of a strike as the 11:59 p.m. ET deadline came and went without a deal.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) plans to walk out at 6 a.m. ET if a deal isn’t reached.
The tentative deals reached at other hospitals provide nurses with a combined 19.1% in pay increases over the three-year life of the agreements and includes promises by management to increase staffing to address the union’s major complaint of nurses being overworked and facing burnout.
Mount Sinai and Montefiore said they had agreed to meet the wage demands of the union, but the union claimed that staffing levels remain the sticking point in reaching deals at the two remaining hospitals.
“We need management to come to the table and provide better staffing,” NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said in a press call Sunday afternoon.
According to Hagans, Montefiore has 760 nursing vacancies, adding that “too often one nurse in the emergency department is responsible for 20 patients instead of the standard of three patients.”
Earlier Sunday evening, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul had urged the management and the union to agree to binding arbitration as a way of avoiding the strike. Although the management of the two hospitals embraced the idea, the union did not.
“We will not give up on our fight to ensure that our patients have enough nurses at the bedside,” the union said in response to Hochul’s arbitration suggestion.
New York Mayor Eric Adams encouraged all parties on Sunday night to “remain at the bargaining table for however long it takes to reach a voluntary agreement.”
The hospitals have been preparing for a strike since the nurses union gave notice of its plans 10 days ago. The affected hospitals plan on paying temporary “traveling” nurses to fill in where possible and some had already begun transferring patients.
Montefiore released a notice to staff, obtained by CNN, telling nurses how to quit the union and stay on the job if they wanted to continue to care for their patients.
Mount Sinai, which operates two hospitals that reached deals Sunday evening in addition to the one still facing a strike, started transferring infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at the end of this past week. Hospitals facing the possibility of strikes had already taken steps to postpone some elective procedures.
The union says the hospitals will be spending more on hiring temporary nurses at a significantly greater cost. It argues the hospitals should agree to their demands to hire more staff and grant the raises the union is seeking.
“As nurses, our top concern is patient safety,” Hagans said in a statement Friday. “Yet nurses … have been forced to work without enough staff, stretched to our breaking point, sometimes with one nurse in the Emergency Department responsible for 20 patients. That’s not safe for nurses or our patients.”
The hospitals say they are doing what they can to hire more nursing staff. Mount Sinai said it has offered the same 19.1% wage increase that the union had accepted at other hospitals.
“Mount Sinai is dismayed by NYSNA’s reckless actions,” Mount Sinai said in a statement Friday. “The union is jeopardizing patients’ care, and it’s forcing valued Mount Sinai nurses to choose between their dedication to patient care and their own livelihoods.”
Nurses at the first hospital to reach a tentative deal, New York-Presbyterian, voted on Saturday. It was a close call with 57% of nurses voting yes and 43% against. The tentative deals reached over the last few days still need to be ratified by rank-and-file union members before they can take effect.
Strikes have become more common nationwide, as tight labor markets and unhappiness with work conditions have prompted unionized employees to flex their muscles more often at the bargaining table.
There were 385 strikes in 2022, up 42% from 270 in 2021, according to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The US Labor Department, which tracks only major strikes by 1,000 or more workers, recorded 20 strikes in the first 11 months of 2022, up 33% from the same period in 2021.
Numerous nursing strikes were among the recorded work stoppages, with many unions citing instances of burnout and health problems among members.
Four out of the 20 strikes reported by the Labor Department last year involved nurses unions. The largest was a three-day strike by the 15,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association involving 13 hospitals in the state.