Nurses union signs off on new contract

Nurses union signs off on new contract

Nurses from St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and St. Charles Hospital have a new contract. File photo by Alex Petroski

The final hurdle was cleared to avoid a work stoppage for nurses at two North Shore hospitals.

Registered nurses from St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson voted overwhelmingly to approve a new contract Nov. 10 — they had been working without a contract since March 2015.

The New York State Nurses Association identified inefficient staffing, health benefits and a pay increase as the key issues they wanted addressed during negotiations, and according to a statement, all three were achieved. Additional nurses will be added to shifts at both hospitals, nurses will receive a three percent pay increase and an increase in health benefits, according to a statement from the union.

After about 18-months of negotiations, the NYSNA and hospital administration from both facilities reached a tentative agreement for a new contract to avoid a work stoppage Nov. 5, and the Nov. 10 vote made it official.

“Nurses at St. Catherine are always willing to stand up for safe patient care.”

— Tammy Miller

“The nurses at St. Charles Hospital are happy to ratify an agreement that protects both nurses and patients,” Tracy Kosciuk, RN and president of the local bargaining unit at St. Charles Hospital, said in a statement. “The issues were so important to our nurses that we took a strike vote that overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 96 percent, and we were willing to hold a two-day strike. We are grateful to have a union behind us to speak up and educate the community on these important issues, and we look forward to working with the community in the future.”

Kosciuk, who has been at the hospital for nearly three decades, said in a phone interview last week that the tentative agreement was reached in part thanks to a “marathon” negotiating session that spanned from the afternoon Nov. 4 until about 9 a.m. Nov. 5. Nurses at both hospitals, who are among about 40,000 in New York State represented by the NYSNA, had voted to authorize the union to give notice of a strike in October, though that never manifested.

“I’m happy with what we were able to retain in regards to nurse-patient ratio with the intensive care unit,” Kosciuk said. Typically six nurses are staffed for shifts in the ICU, though Lorraine Incarnato, a nurse at St. Catherine’s in the ICU for nearly 30 years, said, during a picket outside of the hospital in April, she frequently worked shifts with five or even four nurses on duty.

“It’s causing a lot of friction between administration and staff,” Incarnato said in April. “When you have staff working always short [staffed], always extra, and then knowing that there’s not the respect factor there, they’re unhappy. Unhappy staff doesn’t keep patients happy. We try to put on a really happy face, because the patients come first.”

Administration members from both hospitals were also glad to avoid a work stoppage.

Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“We are pleased to have reached a fair settlement and I’d like to commend both bargaining teams who worked very hard to reach this agreement,” Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at St. Charles Jim O’Connor said in a statement prior to the vote. “St. Charles Hospital is proud of our professional nursing staff and the high quality of care they provide to the members of our community.”

Leadership from St. Catherine of Siena expressed a similar sentiment.

“We are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement which is subject to ratification by NYSNA members at our hospital,” St. Catherine’s Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Paul J. Rowland said in a statement last week.

The more-than-a-year-and-a-half negotiating session featured pickets at both hospitals, with nurses frustrated by inadequate staffing and seeking better health benefits and a pay increase in their next contract.

“All of these issues affect retention and recruitment,” Tammy Miller, a nurse at St. Catherine of Siena, said in a statement in October. “Keeping and attracting experienced nurses are essential to quality care.”

Miller was proud of the efforts put forth by the union and nursing staff since their contract expired.

“Nurses at St. Catherine are always willing to stand up for safe patient care,” she said in a statement after the vote.

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