Roughly 1,000 nurses at Westchester County and upstate hospitals went on strike this week over a lack of worker protections and stalled contract negotiations as coronavirus cases continued to surge in New York.

One strike with about 200 nurses at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital began Tuesday and is expected to end Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The other at Albany Medical Center was shorter in duration — it ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday and lasted 24 hours — but it involved four times as many nurses, with about 800 refusing to report to work.

“Our main concern is the staffing,” said Shalon Matthews, who’s worked as an ER nurse at Montefiore New Rochelle for five years. “It’s our safety. It’s patient safety. One nurse can’t be in six or seven rooms at one time.”

The union is also seeking higher pay and better benefits for workers, issues that have led many New Rochelle nurses to jump ship to other hospitals, according to Matthews.

“We’ve been hemorrhaging nurses,” she said. “There’s no incentive for them to stay. They can go ten minutes away and work at another hospital and make better wages.”

Kathy Santioemma, the New York State Nurses Association’s leader in New Rochelle, said Montefiore management was not showing signs of budging despite several discussions.

“They’re not willing to spend a dime to ensure we have enough nurses to safely care for our community,” she said.

The Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents hospitals in the metropolitan area, pushed back against the striking nurses, calling their walkout a “grievous action.”

“The New York State Nurses Association’s strike at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital is extremely distressing,” said the group’s president Kenneth Raske.

“We have the utmost respect for nurses, but with Montefiore New Rochelle already on a State ‘watch list’ for severe economic distress, NYSNA leadership’s decision to strike is a grievous action, especially during a second COVID-19 surge. It could push Montefiore New Rochelle over the edge.”

Montefiore spokeswoman Lauren Pilkington said NYSNA was “willfully misleading the public.”

“NYSNA is striking because they want the power to dictate staffing assignments and hand out plum positions to their friends, while Montefiore believes the decisions on how to treat patients and make these assignments rests not with any one group alone, but with the entire team caring for the patient,” she said.

Meanwhile in Albany, about 800 nurses who’ve worked without a contract for two years were locked out of work until Friday over their decision to strike for a day, NYSNA spokesman Carl Ginsburg claimed.

The Albany nurses walked out Tuesday over staffing concerns, an apparent shortage of personal protective equipment and hospital procedures the union claims could put patients at risk of contracting COVID-19.

The union said in a written statement Tuesday it filed an OSHA complaint against Albany Medical Center for failing to provide sufficient PPE.

“NYSNA members have a protected right to strike, and Albany Med respects that right. Because Albany Med had to hire temporary nurses to replace striking nurses and contract with the temporary nurses for a minimum of three days, Albany Med has the right to continue to use the temporary nurses who replaced our regular nurses for all three days — even if nurses only struck for one day,” said hospital spokeswoman Sue Ford Rajchel. “This is called delayed reinstatement. It is not a lockout.”


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