Queens is having a midwife crisis.
The childbirth helpers who are part of Mount Sinai’s midwife program at Elmhurst Hospital picketed on Wednesday morning over their ongoing beef with the healthcare system over failed union contract negotiations.
Midwives, nurses, elected officials and parents of children stood in solidarity with the picket outside the medical center on July 28. Illuminated by the early morning light, marchers encircled the entranceway holding signs and chanting, calling Mount Sinai “greedy” for failing to reach a deal.
Midwives recalled operating during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 — when Elmhurst Hospital itself was the epicenter of the city’s health crisis — without hazard pay and at costs lower than base pay.
Both midwives and those looking from the outside in, like Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, feel that the fact these essential workers still have not been given a union contract is a slap in the face.
“I have the displeasure of not having my calls returned by Mount Sinai every time I want to have a conversation about this issue. Why? Why is it so difficult to understand you should be at a table negotiating in good faith with, at a minimum, the willingness to listen to the needs of the folks who are serving the community that—frankly—is making your pockets pretty rich right now,” Cruz said.
According to organizers of the rally, the midwives were approved to join the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) two years prior and yet still remain unionized. The Midwives stated that they believed once the pandemic began to slow, contract negotiations would be able to resume, however, they say this has yet to happen.
Believing that Mount Sinai is taking liberties with their rights, they argue that the work environment is not only becoming unsafe for them, but also a liability for their patients, something Elmhurst’s Chief Midwife Margaret Re testifies to.
“I have served proudly here for the last 23 years, loving this community, loving the people that I have served. I have worked with the hardest group of midwives you can ever meet. I would like to keep them. I would like to retain them. It is too difficult to retain and keep midwives when we are expected to work 30 to 50 hours of overtime each week without extra pay. It has been absurd. We have tried as hard as we can. We voted for the union of NYSNA so that we can at least keep the midwives, so that we could survive. Once the pandemic hit, every one of us stepped up to the plate,” Re said. “Not one of these midwives here called in sick the entire year of the pandemic no matter what was going on at home or at work.”
The group of frontline workers ended their rally calling for immediate contract negotiations, fair wages, and respect.
In response to the rally, Mount Sinai provided amNewYork Metro with the following statement:
“Midwives are an essential part of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst’s Women’s Health team, and are integral to the services provided to the Elmhurst community. Since before the pandemic, we have been in constant communication with the union and we are hopeful that we will reach a fair resolution in the near future,” a spokesperson said.