By Mercedes Manzolillo
HARRIS June 20, 2003 Catskill Regional Medical Centers 129 registered nurses (RNs) held a vote Monday to accept a final offer from the hospital on their employment contract or to vote to authorize the negotiating team to serve a strike notice.
They chose to file that strike notice, and the date set for the strike is July 1 at 7 a.m. if no agreement can be reached and the nurses decide to go through with the strike.
Mark Genovese, the spokesman for the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said, They [hospital management] have pushed us up against a wall. We are doing this for better patient care.
According to Genovese, the nurses are being advised to save money and maintain community ties in case they decide to strike.
According to a letter from the CRMC nurses, they realize the impact of the strike on the community, the hospitals, and their families.
The reasons go deeper than our healthcare benefits, salaries and pensions. We are also concerned with the quality of care we provide to our patients, a quality that can sharply decline when an already exhausted RN is mandated or forced to float to another unit, due to inadequate staffing. There is also a matter of respect we are expected to give all and get none in return. So to our community, we are sorry we had to take this measure. We only hope that you will support us in our decision to provide a better quality of life to our families and to our patients.
The letter was signed by Katherine Hahn and other nurses.
CRMC held a press conference on June 19 at the hospital to discuss the possible strike.
Arthur Brien, President and CEO of CRMC, spoke at the conference, along with other members of management.
According to the hospitals management, they have the utmost confidence and hope to resolve [the issues] without a strike.
We are willing to have negotiations with the New York State Nurses Association. We have never been unwilling to negotiate, said Brien.
According to Brien, out of the 129 unionized nurses at CRMC, 115 are full-time. There are currently 15 vacancies.
Brien reported that they are giving the nurses a 6.5 percent raise this year. An RNs annual salary, after the contract, is (for a nurse with no prior experience) $43,305; $55,215 for a nurse with 11 years experience; and $63,713 for a nurse with 20 years of experience.
Regarding another concern of the nurses health insurance Brien said there are three insurance plans available to the RNs: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, GHI, and MVP. If the RNs choose Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the hospital will pay 85 cents of every dollar the nurses have to pay a month. If they choose the other two plans, the hospital pays for them completely, said Brien.
According to Brien, there is a shortage of nurses nationwide.
Were making this offer because of the shortage of nurses. We have our own economic realities to deal with, he said.
Also according to Brien, the hospital is looking to hire and increase RNs every day. Hes not sure that message is getting across.
A major stumbling block is miscommunication with the nurses, noted Brien.
When asked what would occur if the nurses do strike on July 1, Brien said the hospital will operate as if nothing is happening, and they will have other qualified nurses that are hired in such cases.