“On strike for better patient care,” “More nurses, less millionaire execs!”, “Fair contract for patients and nurses!”, read the signs at the picket lines in front of two major NYC medical facilities.
NYC Nurses Begin Three-Day Strike
January 9th marks the first day of a major labor strike in New York City. More than 7,000 nurses from Mount Sinai Hospital and the Montefiore Medical Center walked out to protest the unfair conditions that they have been working with, especially in recent years.
The main concern behind the movement seems to be the understaffing of the hospitals. According to The Washington Post, “Nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx say they want management to increase hiring to relieve on-the-job stress and agree to pay penalties to nurses who work understaffed shifts.”
Especially after the coronavirus pandemic, nurses are having to work very long and very busy shifts. In an interview with CNN, Montefiore nurse Naniaka Camara says “she’s often late providing medication or other services that patients need due to staffing shortages that can stretch her shifts to 12 or 14 hours.”
In terms of what the nurses’ goals were for the strike, the president of the American Nurses Association Jennifer Mensik Kennedy explained in an interview with NPR, “The American Nurses Association shares the nurses’ frustration with a lack of solutions. And we’ve really worked together with decision-makers in organizations and nationally to say, you know, we really do need to work through and address safe staffing issues. We need to look at how we can address getting more nurses to be faculty and address the faculty shortage. And we also need to look at the work environment and encourage nurses to stay nurses and not to leave the profession. And we want nurses to be nurses for their entire career. So those are the three areas I think we could really focus in on in order to make a sustainable change.”
As of January 11th, negotiations with the hospitals have ended and the nurses have returned to work. The negotiations included a deal to increase pay and the opening of many more nursing positions. Nurse-patient ratios were also introduced to make the nurses’ workload more manageable. Tentative contracts were drawn and the nurses and unions will vote soon.
Labor Strikes and Their Purpose
Labor strikes have been occurring in this country ever since the Industrial Revolution. Terrible working conditions for factory workers in the first years of mass manufacturing were extremely common. Because of this, workers began to come together and form what were some of the first labor unions in the United States. Large groups of workers would assemble protests, or strikes, demanding things like higher wages, shorter hours, safer working conditions, and more.
So, the purpose of a strike is ultimately to demand a better working situation for laborers or to protest against employers for unfair conditions.
There is a lot of planning that goes into organizing a labor strike. It involves contacting union members, reading bargaining agreements to see if a strike would be legal, collecting funds for picketers, and trying to convince the public that it is a worthy cause.
That is why it is a really big deal when a major strike occurs, especially with a count of more than 7,000 people as in the recent NYC nurse strike.
There is, as with many things, controversy surrounding labor strikes. In terms of the NYC nurse strike, some are asking, “Why are the nurses abandoning their patients for this?” Actually, the patients in both hospitals were taken care of by a supply of temporary workers who filled the roles of the nurses who were out picketing. They prepared well in advance to ensure that the patients were covered and everything would be safe.
A lot of the opposition to labor strikes and unions comes from people with a pro-business ideology. The business or employer to whom the strike is directed finds them disruptive. In a business setting, a strike can seriously decrease the daily profit due to the formation of picket lines in front of and around the building. As for the hospitals, they had trouble staying organized and were, of course, in opposition to the strike and the disruption that it caused.
How to Show Support
There are many ways to show support for workers on strike. According to a TeenVogue article by Jacqui Germain, some supportive actions include: publicly supporting the strike, visiting the picket line to help in any way, sharing information about the strike with friends, and pushing politicians and leaders to show their support for the workers as well.
I strongly believe that people should never cross a picket line, even though, of course, it is entirely up to each individual. Crossing the picket line is considered very disrespectful and even demeaning to those who are participating in the strike. Going on strike is a big deal- so if a group of workers decides that there is an issue important enough to form a picket line over it, their voices should be respected, even if you do not agree with what they are saying.
Our workers, especially our nurses, keep the world going around. They were heroes of the coronavirus pandemic. They continue to save lives every day. Their voices deserve to be heard. Don’t you think it’s the least we could do?