Nurses from Albany Medical Center, who successfully voted to unionize last year, rallied in Albany on Sunday, braving the cold weather and winds to demand that contract negotiations resume between the two parties.
Standing on the steps of City Hall in Albany, donning red and holding signs that read, "Albany Medical Center, listen to your nurses!" dozens of registered nurses were joined by local elected officials, as well as community religious leaders to encourage the hospital to end the standstill and start working with the nurses to negotiate a new contract.
The registered nurses at Albany Med voted 1,161-582 to unionize in April 2018. Albany Med is upstate New York's only Level 1 Trauma Center.
Both the nurses and their union, the New York State Nurses Association, are seeking higher pay and safer staffing levels, in an effort to prevent nurses from being spread too thin and trying to care for too many patients on a given shift. Nurses are also charging that the hospital is trying to save money on personnel costs by working its existing employees even harder.
Sunday's demonstration, which ended with a prayer vigil predicting success for the nurses, was not the first time the nurses have gone public with their contract fight. In September, the nurses picketed outside of the hospital itself demanding higher wages and higher staffing levels.
"Albany Med has been negotiating in good faith for more than a year to achieve a contract that is fair to all of our employees and to all of our nurses. We cannot agree to any deal so costly that it endangers our ability to deliver the highest quality health care to people in our region. All decisions, on staffing and every other aspect of our hospital, are made to ensure we deliver the highest quality care to our patients in the safest possible environment," Albany Medical Center said in a statement at the time.
Sunday's rally saw local elected officials voice their frustration along with the nurses over the lengthy amount of time that has gone by with little to no movement in the contract negotiations.
As they chanted along with assembled union organizers and cars passing by honked in support, the nurses and officials condemned the hospital for its inaction on what they characterized as an urgent matter.
"It shouldn't have taken this long," Corey Ellis, president of the Albany Common Council said on Sunday while surrounded by nurses and other union activists.
Religious leaders from all over the Capital Region, including the City of Schenectady, pledged their support for the nurses as well. Rev. Sara Baron, at the First United Methodist Church in Schenectady and Rev. Dustin Wright, pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, both had signed on to a lengthy letter from dozens of state-wide clergies standing behind the nurses.
"The nurses of Albany Medical Center do life-saving work every day," Owusu Anane, Albany Common Council member for the 10th ward, said on Sunday. "As a council member, I am proud to join the Albany Medical Center nurses in their efforts to secure a fair contract. All we're asking of Albany Med is to do the right thing."