A three-day strike by nurses at two New York City hospitals has ended after a tentative deal was struck early Thursday morning.
About 7,000 nurses have promised to go back to work by 7 a.m. at Mount Sinai Hospital in Harlem and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
Insiders said that patient care had suffered at both hospitals during strike, as the facilities struggled to staff some units after members of the New York State Nurses Association walked out on Monday (NYSNA).
“This is a historic victory for New York City nurses and for nurses across the country. NYSNA nurses have done the impossible, saving lives night and day, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and now we’ve again shown that nothing is impossible for nurse heroes,” NYSNA president Nancy Hagans said. “Through our unity and by putting it all on the line, we won enforceable safe staffing ratios at both Montefiore and Mount Sinai where nurses went on strike for patient care."
The nurses hit the picket line over 18% pay raises spread over three years and understaffing issues. Nurses at several other private medical centers and hospital networks had also threatened strikes, giving 10-day notice just before the new year began. But they were able to develop agreements before Monday morning's deadline. Mount Sinai ultimately walked away from the bargaining table as the strike and didn't return for nearly two days.
At a press conference Thursday morning, union representatives said specifics of the deal included the requested raises, lower healthcare costs, and set hospital-wide staffing ratios at Mount Sinai that take effect immediately once the contract is ratified.
At Montefiore, nurses secured lower patient-to-staff ratios for the emergency department and financial penalties for management if the hospital fails to abide by them. Montefiore also promised to open new space for emergency care in order to stop nurses from having to treat patients in hallways, union officials said.
Ana Villeda, an emergency room nurse at Montefiore said she felt relieved the strike was over and eager to get back to work.
She pointed to provisions that guaranteed lower patient ratios, depending on how severe their conditions were, and an agreement to open another part of the hospital up so they'd stop having to treat patients in hallways.
“The change will bring us a little bit closer to enjoying our jobs again and really providing the care we so desperately were looking to provide,” Villeda said. “Being on strike was not an easy decision, and I don’t think any of us wanted to be there and when we were there we couldn’t wait to get out of the cold and back inside.”
Earlier this week, Montefiore and Mount Sinai said that they offered the union the same deal that other hospitals offered, but their nurses held out for better staffing ratios, the union said. During the back-and-forth, hospital management offered to hire more nurses, but union representatives pointed out hospitals already had hundreds of open positions, and simply adding more vacancies wouldn’t address the core issue.
“We came to these bargaining sessions with great respect for our nurses and with proposals that reflect their priorities in terms of wages, benefits, safety, and staffing,” Dr. Philip O. Ozuah, Montefiore CEO, said. Mount Sinai officials thanked the governor for her help breaking the deadlock.
“Our proposed agreement is similar to those between NYSNA and eight other New York City hospitals. It is fair and responsible, and it puts patients first. We’re grateful to Governor Hochul, her staff and elected officials for their leadership and support throughout the negotiation process.” Mount Sinai spokesperson Marlene Naanes said in a statement.
Gov. Kathy Hochul's office said it had been heavily involved with negotiations for weeks, even offering a last-minute arbitration deal on Sunday to avert a strike. She visited Mount Sinai Hospital Thursday morning as the strike concluded.
After the strike ended Mount Sinai, nurse Mayfair Aboagyewah said she was eager to return to work.
“Back to business, so we can take care of the patients, our priority is the patients,” she said. “And in order for the patients to be taken care [of], they need more nurses, that’s about it. nothing else.”
Tourie Nozari, a volunteer at the Harlem hospital who escorts patients around the facility, recalled the contribution that nurses made during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and the 7 p.m. citywide clap in their honor.
“It felt like, ‘Are you kidding?’ Give them what they want,” she said. “I’m happy for the nurses that they got what they wanted.”