Nurses at Nathan Littauer Hospital voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike as they try to negotiate a contract with management, which they say continues to make demands that force experienced and qualified nurses away.
The nurses’ most recent four-year contract expired on Dec. 31, 2010. During this time, a federal mediator was brought in to help reach a settlement. But after repeated sessions with hospital management, the 144 nurses represented by New York State Nurses Association and the hospital have not reached a contract. The authorization vote was Tuesday night.
Nathan Littauer nurses have never gone on strike, said NYSNA spokesman Mark Genovese.
“We’ve had about 30 strikes in [NYSNA’s] history going back to the 1980s, and it’s always been the absolute last resort usually because hospital management has absolutely refused to really listen to the nurses,” Genovese said. “So the goal isn’t, ‘hey let’s go out and strike.’ The goal is to obtain a fair contract.”
Nathan Littauer spokeswoman Cheryl McGrattan could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The nurses’ main demand has been a better staff-to-patient ratio. They have stated that patient needs are increasing while positions in both the maternity and pediatrics wards have been downsized, resulting in additional responsibilities for the nurses.
Under federal labor law, a strike cannot start until 10 days after the nurses’ negotiating committee serves the hospital with a notice of intent.
The vote to strike simply allows the bargaining committee to serve a strike notice to hospital management if it wants to, said Janice Treanor, program representative for NYSNA. There is no timetable for when the committee might present the notice, she said, and even if it does, talks can continue until the morning of a strike.
“All this does right now is give them the permission to actually serve the strike notice if there’s nowhere else to go in negotiations,” Treanor said. “It puts the ball in management’s court.”
Another negotiating session will take place today, but Treanor and Genovese would not speculate on whether the notice will be served there.
If a strike should occur, a patient care committee would be made available in the case of an emergency. It would allow nurses to leave the strike line to assist a patient until the patient is stable, Treanor said.
“The intention of a strike is not to leave the community without care,” Treanor said. “The intention really is to show them that the bargaining unit is behind its negotiation committee. It really is to put the pressure on management.”
The 10-day notice allows management time to prepare as well. Treanor said she knows of a newsletter that went out among hospital officials that indicated management was preparing to deal with a potential strike, either by moving patients out or bringing temporary nurses in.
Nathan Littauer nurses are prepped as well to transition into strike mode, she said. If a patient’s safety is at risk, a nurse can stay on to help the patient out, she said.
“The reason we’re doing this is because we’re so concerned about the quality of care,” he said. “But again, it’s a last resort and we would not serve the strike notice until we absolutely have to.”
Hospital management has previously said that it was offering a wage increase less than past contracts, and asking for a modest benefit decrease during negotiations.
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