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7,000 nurses commence strike in New York City

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More than 7,000 nurses at two hospitals in New York City went on strike early Monday, forcing the health centres into a frantic flurry to move patients, divert ambulances and scale back other services.

The strikes, over working conditions, salaries, and staffing policies, presented serious challenges to hospitals already facing the “tripledemic” of R.S.V., flu, and COVID-19 cases across the city.

After failing to reach an agreement during a late-night bargaining session on Sunday, the New York State Nurses Association said early yesterday that nurses were on strike at two hospitals: the Mount Sinai Medical Center, on the Upper East Side, and Montefiore Medical Centre in the Bronx.

“It is time for the hospitals to treat these nurses fairly, with the dignity and respect they deserve, to ensure nurses can get back to serving their communities by providing superior care to their patients”, Mario Cilento, the president of the New York State A.F.L.-C.I.O. said in a statement.

The hospitals rushed to bring in temporary staff and continue operations, even pressing doctors into service to fill nursing shortages. In a statement yesterday, Montefiore Medical Center said the union’s leadership had “decided to walk away from the bedsides of their patients,” despite management’s offer of a 19.1 percent compounded wage increase and its commitment to creating more than 170 new nursing positions.

Mount Sinai administrators said in an emailed statement that the union leadership had walked out of negotiations at 1 a.m. yesterday morning. “Our first priority is the safety of our patients,” the statement said. “We’re prepared to minimize disruption, and we encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue providing the world-class care they’re known for.”

Union officials said they were fighting for pay raises to keep up with inflation. They also said hospitals have not hired enough nurses to deal with shortages created by the Covid-19 pandemic and have asked for improved staffing ratios.

“We do not take striking lightly, but that’s what’s going to happen if our bosses give us no other choice”, said Nancy Hagans, president of the Nurses Association, which represents 42,000 nurses in New York State.

The union said that the main sticking point at both hospitals was adequate enforcement mechanisms to ensure safe staffing levels were honored. No bargaining sessions were scheduled for Monday at this point, but the nurses were ready to return to the table, the union said.

On Sunday night, Governor Kathy Hochul called for binding arbitration “so that all parties can swiftly reach a resolution”. Officials from both hospitals said they would welcome arbitration and hoped the nurses’ union would agree and postpone its strike deadline, but union officials did not accept the offer.

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