Nurses picket for better wages, safer work conditions

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UTICA — Healthcare workers representing the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) held informational pickets Friday at St. Elizabeth’s, Oneida Healthcare Center and Watertown’s Samaritan Medical Center to draw attention to what they consider unfair wages and unsafe staffing levels.

The informational pickets happened throughout the day, running from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m in Watertown and noon until 2 p.m. in Utica. The Oneida pickets were held from 4 to 6 p.m.

“In the last two years, NYSNA has successfully reached agreements with more than 60 hospitals representing more than 26,000 (NYSNA) members across the state, but management (in Watertown, Utica and Oneida) have resisted NYSNA’s proposals on these key issues,” NYSNA spokeswoman Tara L. Martin said in a statement.

Nurses at the three hospitals have claimed unsafe staffing levels have led to higher-than-necessary patient deaths and turnover rates among registered nurses, along with high staffing costs and insurance liability.

“The facts are clear. Safe staffing saves lives,” Martin said.

St. Elizabeth Medical Center says its registered nurses have been represented by the union for many years, and the health care facility has reached numerous contract agreements. In the current round of negotiations, SEMC reports there have been 18 bargaining sessions and the parties have reached tentative agreements on more than 36 items.

“Our negotiating team and the administration at SEMC respect the bargaining process and are committed to bargaining in good faith,” St. Elizabeth representatives said in a prepared statement. “We believe that the NYSNA team representing SEMC does as well.”

The union represents 461 registered nurses, full- and part-time and per diem, at St. Elizabeth, which is part of the Mohawk Valley health System.

Oneida Healthcare Community Relations Director Kevin J. Prosser said the hospital is in compliance with state and federal guidelines which are supervised by the New York State Department of Health, federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and accrediting organizations like the Joint Commission.

“We believe our nurse staffing is in line with these industry standards and our outcome results for patient care and patient satisfaction support that,” Prosser said. “Working conditions as well as nurse staffing ratios at Oneida Healthcare are very much in line with industry standards.”

The pay rate and benefits for nurses at Oneidas Healthcare are likewise maintained at satisfactory levels, according to Prosser.

“Our nursing pay scales are currently very competitive with other healthcare facilities in this region and our benefit structure is better than most,” Prosser said. “This is supported by a retention rate of staff better than the area average.”

Negotiations between Oneida Healthcare and NYSNA are ongoing.

“We plan to continue to bargain in good faith, as we remain hopeful to reach and fair and equitable agreement in the near future to help maintain our highly skilled, dedicated and valued complement of ruses,” Prosser said.

The ability of both parties to schedule meetings has been an obstacle to negotiations.

“We have offered over 10 dates to meet with NYSNA representatives for negotiation during the past year, including providing the federal mediator wither 50 dates in November and December 2015 alone,” Prosser said. “Our inability to reach a new contract is not due to a lack of effort.”

The next negotiating session is scheduled for March 25.

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