With Montefiore nurses, admins at standstill, solidarity on display on Day 2 of NYC nurse strike

Nurses rally outside the Montefiore campus on Eastchester Road in the Bronx as part of a citywide strike.
Nurses rally outside the Montefiore campus on Eastchester Road in the Bronx in January 2023 as part of a citywide strike.
Photo Aliya Schneider

The second day of a 7,000-strong nursing strike continued at Montefiore and Mt. Sinai campuses on Tuesday with little resolution between striking nurses and hospital administrators.

But solidarity amongst nurses, and support from politicos and patients across the city and nation, has given a red sea of nurses positive momentum.

Some nurses, like those rallying for fair contracts outside Montefiore’s Weiler Hospital location on Eastchester Road Tuesday, turned their picketing into a festive gathering — dancing to ’90s party music and celebrating their status as a united front in their contract dispute with hospital administrators.

On the bargaining table for 3,500 nurses Montefiore nurse is an offer for a 19.1% wage increase compounded over three years and a plan to create more than 170 new nursing positions, a chief talking point for nurses during contract negotiations.

Montefiore remains at the bargaining table, committed to an equitable agreement that reflects the priorities of our dedicated nurses,” a statement from Montefiore reads. Contingency plans remain in place to ensure our hospitals remain open, because Montefiore is, and always will be, here for the Bronx.”

Montefiore’s messaging during the strikes — which includes a letter from Montefiore’s president Phillip Ozuah calling the strike “disappointing” — has done little to assuage the frustrations and tensions of their employees.

A small, yet, loud chant of “Dr. O got to go” rang out at a Tuesday’s late-morning press conference held by New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the nursing union, and nurses said that divide between themselves and hospital administrators is emblematic of a “dysfunctional” health care system where profits are prioritized over front line employees and patients.

Nurses began picketing on Monday morning at three Montefiore locations in the Bronx as well as in front of Mt. Sinai in Manhattan.

Mount Sinai and Montefiore have more than 1,200 nurse vacancies between them which striking nurses say is unsafe for both nurses and for patients.

The mood outside the Montefiore Weiler campus in the Bronx was festive Tuesday as picketers sang and danced throughout the day. Photo Aliya Schneider

One Montefiore labor and delivery nurse, Sasha, who declined to share her last name, told the Bronx Times on Tuesday afternoon while picketing outside of the Weiler campus that her reason for striking is simple: better staff-to-patient ratios and an enforcement of those ratios.

In 2021, NYSNA called for specific staffing ratios in most hospital units, hoping to to alleviate onerous workloads for nurses that were exacerbated by ongoing COVID-19 responses across the city and state.

Ultimately, the state opted to require hospitals to negotiate with nursing staff and set their own staffing levels on an annual basis.

Fast-forward a year later, those measures didn’t manifest into manageable or safer staffing, as thousands of nurses filled the the streets of three Montefiore campuses with chants for safer staffing.

Montefiore nurses told the Bronx Times that staffing shortages at the hospital system led to as many as 20 patients for one nurse which is more than quintuple the amount by law in California, the only state with a nurse-to patient-ratio law.

“This is unsafe … the number of patients they’ve given us, which cause delays in treatments, delays in medications,” said Shirley Escala, a nurse of 30 years, with seven spent at Montefiore. “You don’t respect patients by putting them in the hallways. People go to the hospital to get better and heal, and they can’t heal in a chaotic environment.”

According to a recent George Washington University report supported by the unions’ Safe + Healthy Coalition, there is “strong scientific evidence” that nurse staffing levels are “critical components” of patient safety and worker satisfaction.

However, there is little data on how safe staffing levels and ratios translate to patient safety or experiences. Two-thirds of nurses, nationwide, say they are planning to leave the profession in the next two years, with understaffing leaving caregivers burnt out and at their breaking point.

While Montefiore has had to make adjustments in its day-to-day operations during the strike — including a cancellation of elective surgeries and procedures at its Moses Hospital, Weiler Hospital and Children’s Hospital campuses — patients are in solidarity with striking nurses, despite how it has impacted their treatment schedules.

“It’s frustrating that (my surgery) got canceled, but I also see how dog tired by nurse had been the last time I was at Montefiore. I see how little sleep they get, how overwhelmed they are with their mentals and their physical environment,” said South Bronx resident Greg Gamble. “So, of course, I stand with them over the people who drive my hospital bills up.”

According to NYSNA, nursing agreements reached with the other eight hospitals prior to Monday’s strike aim to improve patient care, staffing and wages for thousands of nurses while ensuring that the quality of hospital care is the same for upper-income Manhattan patients as it is for low-income Black and brown patients in the outer boroughs.

BronxCare, one of eight private hospitals in total to be met with a Dec. 30 strike notice, before reaching a tentative agreement that will improve safe staffing levels and increase nursing wages by 7%, 6% and 5% for each year of a proposed three-year contract.

BronxCare nurses ratified their deal on Tuesday.

Until a new deal is reached with Montefiore and Mt. Sinai admins, nurses like Denise Reyes will continue to wake up, grab her picket and stand in solidarity with her nurses until dusk.

“We’re seeing so much love from everybody. They know who we are fighting for, they know what can happen if both hospitals come to the table and with the right mindset,” said Reyes. “I believe by the time this over, we will have made a major change for nurses and patients at these profit-driven hospitals.”

— Aliya Schneider contributed to this report.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes