On the Picket Line

Albany nurses fight for union contract, against short staffing

By Jacob Perasso
October 21, 2019

ALBANY, N.Y. — “What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!” chanted hundreds of nurses and their supporters outside Albany Medical Center here Sept. 25. 

“We nurses love to take care of our patients but, at this point we have a crisis in the hospital, most significantly staffing,” Jennifer Bejo, a nurse at the hospital, told the rally. 

In addition to demanding a reduction in the nurse-to-patient ratio in order to provide safe care, nurses are fighting for adequate on-the-job training and against high medical insurance premiums, which nurses reported were $350 per paycheck for a family. 

The two-part action, one held around morning shift change and the other during lunch time, was the largest protest the nurses have organized so far in this fight. Members of the Laborers Union, United Union of Roofers, SMART rail union Local 83, nurses from the nearby Veterans Administration hospital and some nursing students joined the action. 

Last year, nurses at Albany Medical Center voted 1,161-582 to be represented by the New York State Nurses Association. Albany Med tried to intimidate nurses from the Philippines working at the hospital but failed. “They told some nurses they would lose their green card if the union won,” said Maria Bartolome, a nurse at the rally. That hasn’t happened. 

Negotiations have stalled since the union vote. “They are not taking us seriously. We are short staffed. We want a voice on staffing. They will not even look at us,” said Karen Gerstenberger, a nurse of 35 years. 

Abby Tilsner, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Albany County Executive, joined the picket line on her lunch break from nearby St. Peters Hospital, where she works as a nurse. “Health care should be a right, not a profit-making insurance business,” she said in discussions with nurses there.