On the Picket Line

New York nurses strike for safety, patient care, better wages

By Jacob Perasso
December 21, 2020
Members of New York State Nurses Association picket Albany Medical Center during Dec. 1 strike demanding more staff to ensure safety and for the health of patients, higher pay.
Militant/Ved DookhunMembers of New York State Nurses Association picket Albany Medical Center during Dec. 1 strike demanding more staff to ensure safety and for the health of patients, higher pay.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Hundreds of nurses organized by the New York State Nurses Association struck Albany Medical Center here Dec. 1. Many picketed the entire day, dressed in red and carrying signs reading, “On strike for safety” and “Fair contract for patients and nurses.” Hospital bosses, who had hired replacement workers,  prevented nurses from returning to work for three days after the 24-hour strike. 

“This strike is about respect and safety and it’s about time that AMC stop treating us like thugs and thieves,” Lenore Granich, a striking nurse who is a member of the union negotiating committee, told a midday solidarity rally.

Also speaking were local elected officials and representatives of the American Postal Workers Union; Local 81359 of the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America, which represents Momentive workers; Albany County Central Labor Council; Laborers Local 190; New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and Albany Teachers Association. 

Many workers from throughout the region joined the picket line, including five rail conductors from two locals organized by SMART-TD, electricians from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and several Walmart workers. 

“AMC puts safety and patients’ lives in jeopardy,” Jennifer Bejo, an intensive care unit nurse, told the rally. “We are fighting for a contract for all nurses, whether in the union or not. We need to be heard and we will do this again if we have to.” 

“I have been up for 24 hours,” said Olive Ayaho, a clinical support nurse who picketed after having worked night shift. “But it’s important to be part of history. We are in the streets fighting for all nurses.” 

The over 2,000 nurses at the hospital voted in September to authorize a strike, more than two years after voting 1,161 to 582 to be represented by the New York State Nurses Association. They are fighting for a contract that guarantees a reduction in the nurse-to-patient ratio, adequate on-the-job training, lower medical insurance premiums, and higher wages. 

The nurses are also demanding a series of measures to increase safety for both nurses and patients. These include providing N95 masks for all points of patient contact, no rationing or reusing of PPE, for separate units with a higher standard of safety for COVID patients, safer ventilation systems, and a full 14-day sick time for nurses infected with COVID-19 with no pressure to return to work early. 

So far Albany Med bosses have refused to make any concessions. Instead, they retaliated by trying unsuccessfully to decertify the union and are victimizing nurses leading the union’s efforts. 

“When the company writes up one of the nurse leaders, we gather in front of the office at the time of the disciplinary meeting to defend that nurse,” said nurse Mike Fitzsimmons, a member of the negotiating committee. 

The union last week filed an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital, claiming managers illegally tried to coerce nurses to quit the union. 

When hospital bosses hired 700 replacement nurses to fill staffing shortages during the strike, “they demanded N95 masks,” Granich said. “When management stated that they didn’t need them, they refused to work until they were provided the masks. 

“The replacement workers went on strike,” she said.