NYC nurses strike: Hochul calls for arbitration between union and two hospitals struggling to reach a deal

Nurse strike looming
New York nurses rallied in November 2022 on the steps of City Hall over what they are calling a staffing crisis in city hospitals.
Photo by Dean Moses

On the eve of a potential strike Monday, Governor Kathy Hochul called for binding arbitration between the New York State Nurses Association and two hospitals in New York City that have yet to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

“For weeks now, we have been working tirelessly with our partners in New York City to broker negotiations between the nurses and affected hospitals and our efforts have achieved significant progress,” Hochul said in a statement Sunday evening. “Yet there remain outstanding issues at Montefiore and Mount Sinai and I am now calling for binding arbitration so that all parties can swiftly reach a resolution. The New York State Department of Health will continue to enforce staffing requirements under the law at these hospitals to maintain the delivery of essential health care services to the community and protect patient health and safety. Likewise, the Health Department will continue to ensure that all providers are meeting the requirements of the law.”

The announcement came hours after the New York Nurses Association (NYSNA) confirmed Sunday that Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West have come to terms on a tentative agreement to prevent a massive nurses strike from taking place Monday, leaving only the Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Bronx without contracts, with negotiations ongoing.

“Today, Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside reached a settlement, subject to ratification, with NYSNA union leadership and NYSNA has rescinded its strike notice at those sites. This agreement includes the identical 19.1 percent wage increases in agreements that have already been accepted by six other hospitals, and officially ratified by NewYork-Presbyterian and Maimonides,” a representative from Mount Sinai said in a statement.

While this news will come as a great relief to many, the strike has not been fully averted yet. Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Bronx still have yet to shake on a deal. If an agreement is not made, Mount Sinai Hospital, representing approximately 3,625 nurses and Montefiore Bronx, representing approximately 3,500 nurses will walk off the job Monday morning.

NYSNA charged Sunday that the potentially historic strike affecting Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Bronx is in the hands of hospital bosses and not medical workers one day before nurses are set to walk out of emergency rooms.

“It’s really up to the bosses, it’s not up to us. As we said in the beginning: We are here to negotiate; we are here to negotiate in good faith to make sure that the nurses have enough resources to care for the patients. We are at the table right now,” NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said during a Jan. 8 press call. “It’s not up for the nurses, it’s up to the bosses to sit there and come up with a fair contract so our nurses can continue to care for our patients.”

Since NYSNA delivered a strike notice to eight facilities on Dec. 30, 2022, the union has made deals with medical centers, including Brooklyn Hospital, BronxCare Health System and Flushing Hospital on Jan. 6. 

According to Hagans, negotiations have been difficult; although NewYork Presbyterian’s contract, for instance, was passed with a 57% nurses vote, she noted that other hospitals like Mount Sinai are still unable to see eye-to-eye, with management representatives walking away from the bargaining table on Thursday.   

After Hochul’s announcement, the NYSNA called for the governor to “listen to frontline COVID nurse heroes and respect our federally-protected and collective bargaining rights.”

“We welcome the Governor’s support in fighting for fair contracts that protect our patients, and we will not give up on our fight to ensure that our patients have enough nurses at the bedside,” the NYSNA said. “Nurses don’t want to strike. Bosses have pushed us to strike by refusing to seriously consider our proposals to address the desperate crisis of unsafe staffing that harms our patients.”

A representative from Mount Sinai hospital released a statement, prior to the agreement with Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West, in which they pushed back in a scathing response.

“Mount Sinai is dismayed by NYSNA’s reckless actions. The union is jeopardizing patients’ care, and it’s forcing valued Mount Sinai nurses to sacrifice their dedication to patient care and their own livelihoods. We have offered a 19.1% compounded pay raise over three years, which is the same offer other hospital systems in the city have made. Still, NYSNA refuses to back off its plan to strike on Monday, even though it has called off planned strikes at other New York City hospitals. It’s not reasonable for NYSNA to ask for a significant wage increase above and beyond these other sites.  It’s time for NYSNA to meet us back at the bargaining table and continue negotiating in good faith, so that Mount Sinai nurses can continue providing the exceptional patient care for which they’re known and respected,” the statement from Mount Sinai read. 

NYSNA urged talks to continue in good faith, which may now see Mount Sinai return to the table this afternoon. While there is no set deadline for the contract and deals can be laid out well into the early hours of the morning, the NYSNA state nurses will strike at 6 a.m. on Jan. 9 if an agreement is not established. 

“We have said: always our number one issue is a crisis of staffing, chronic understaffing that harms patient care. Safe staffing is about having enough nurses to deliver safe care, quality care to every patient. It is an issue that our employers have ignored, made excuses about and fought against us every time,” Hagans said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Our bosses created the understaffing crisis by failing to hire and retain enough nurses out of facilities, leaving the rest of us to work short staffed.”

Hagans stressed nurses have not taken the decision to strike lightly. Published reports indicate that Mount Sinai has been removing babies from their natal care units, and canceling scheduled surgeries, in preparation for a possible strike.