Nurses at South Shore University Hospital on Long Island are one step closer to following in the footsteps of New York City nurses who went on strike in early January.

The nurses’ contract with South Shore, which is owned by Northwell Health, expired last February. Negotiations over a new one have been ongoing for months, according to the New York State Nurses Association. On Friday, nearly all of the 800 or so members of the hospital's nurses union voted to authorize a strike. If contract negotiations continue to stall, the union could issue a 10-day notice alerting the hospital that nurses are planning to walk off the job.

"We do not take striking lightly, and many of our members never thought it would come to this,” Chrysse Blau, the president of NYSNA’s local bargaining unit at the hospital, said in a statement. “But after months of negotiations, Northwell is still unwilling to listen to the nurses and deliver a contract that will help staff this hospital safely to deliver the care our community deserves.”

NYSNA spokesperson Diana Moreno said nurses are pushing for an 18% pay bump over three years, similar to the raises that were included in recent contract agreements at several New York City hospitals. But as with those hospitals, South Shore nurses said safer staffing was the bigger issue.

The nurses want Northwell to agree to set and enforce nurse-to-patient ratios in each unit. At Mount Sinai, for example, the contract nurses won stated that an arbitrator could step in if ratios were routinely violated.

Jennifer Scimone, a cardiothoracic nurse at South Shore, said nurses in her unit are typically supposed to care for five patients at a time, but are sometimes assigned as many as eight.

“You can't be in seven places at once,” said Scimone. “It's just not physically or humanly possible to provide the level of care that they need and also the type of care that they deserve.”

Scimone, who has worked at the hospital for five years, said that while there were staffing issues prior to the pandemic, they had been exacerbated as many longtime nurses left. It’s a trend that is putting a strain on many hospitals nationwide. But Scimone said the recent three-day nurses' strike at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx gave her hope. Both hospitals agreed to contracts that included hiring commitments, nurse-to-patient ratios and enforcement mechanisms.

“The New York City strike definitely empowered us,” Scimone said.

Although strikes can have serious consequences for patient care, Scimone said she thought the nurses who went on strike in the city were “advocating” for their patients. “We decided that it's time for us to stand up and do the same,” Scimone said. Gothamist reported this week that Mount Sinai is investigating the death of a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit that took place during the nurses' strike there.

Asked about the strike vote on Friday, Northwell spokesperson Barbara Osborn said, “We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached and look forward to positive and productive negotiations next week. We are proud of the long-standing excellent care our dedicated nursing team provides and that our patients and community have come to trust.”

A nurse at the hospital shared an email with Gothamist that Northwell leadership sent out to staff on Jan. 30 with an offer that outlined progressive compensation dating back to March 2022. The nurse was granted anonymity due to the threat of retaliation.

“While SSUH is eager to reach an agreement with NYSNA, we must also consider the financial impact on the hospital,” the email stated, adding that some of NYSNA’s proposals were “unsustainable.” NYSNA confirmed the email.

Asked about this offer, Osborn noted that negotiations are ongoing. The next session is scheduled for Feb. 9.