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Thousands of nurses at 2 NYC hospitals are on strike after negotiations fail

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

Union-organized nurses at two of New York City's biggest hospitals say they are going ahead with a strike this morning. Nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital's main campus in Harlem got up early to get ready to picket. In fact, that's where we find Caroline Lewis of member station WNYC in New York. Caroline, good morning.

CAROLINE LEWIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

BROWN: Yeah. Get us up to speed. Why have the nurses decided to strike?

LEWIS: Well, nurses are - you know, they're fighting for better pay and health benefits, but I think the main issue here is staffing. You know, there are hundreds of unfilled nursing positions at both hospitals that are striking today. And staffing has really been an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with a lot of people leaving to become travel or, you know, temp nurses and hospitals struggling to keep up with pay that can compete with how lucrative those positions are.

BROWN: So staffing and pay, those are just two of the issues - patient care, as you pointed out. What do the hospitals say about the impact as it relates to patient care?

LEWIS: Well, you know, in New York City, they're diverting ambulances away from these hospitals today. The hospitals, you know, I know, are definitely going to be shelling out a lot of money for temporary staff to fill in while the strike is ongoing. But the patient care has still been affected, you know, with elective surgeries postponed. And I know both hospitals were trying to either discharge or transfer as many patients as they could safely over the weekend.

BROWN: And, Caroline, remind us what happened with contract negotiations. Where did they break down?

LEWIS: Well, I think, you know, specifically the staffing issue, again, has really been the issue. You know, both hospitals are offering raises that are similar to what has been offered at other hospitals where strikes have been avoided in recent days. But, you know, nurses say that they really want commitments from these hospitals to fill the open positions and to put in place enforcement mechanisms, you know, if they're failing to staff up properly. You know, nurses are saying that they are just taking on, you know, more patients than they safely can in these different units. And I think, you know, the mood here is really exuberant, but a lot of nurses say they're really sad that it's come to this.

BROWN: And I guess the final question is, what are the unions asking to happen now?

LEWIS: Well, you know, the - Governor Hochul last night really tried to avoid a strike at the last minute, saying that, you know - she basically said that the hospitals and nurses should enter into arbitration to avoid a strike. And the hospital said they were open to that. But the nurses said, you know, they want these hospitals to meet their demands. And they're, you know, going to move forward with the strike until that happens.

BROWN: And how long do we expect this to go on?

LEWIS: That's unclear. You know, I mean, other hospitals, again, like, have been able to reach deals, you know, in recent days. So I think that's promising. But there are other hospitals that still might strike after this. You know, there's another hospital in Brooklyn that has issued a strike notice for the coming days if they don't reach a deal. And so I think they're willing to stay out here until they have their demands met.

BROWN: We'll leave it there. Caroline Lewis of member station WNYC in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dwane Brown
Dwane Brown is a multiple award-winning newscaster for NPR and joined the network in December 2015. He is the first newscaster to broadcast from NPR West in Culver City, California. His newscasts air during All Things Considered.
Caroline Lewis