New York State Nurses Association
REPORT: January 2003
by Mark Genovese
"It takes someone very special to be a nurse. It's an art and a science," says Eileen Letzeiser, the new vice chair of NYSNA's Delegate Assembly. "We give so much of ourselves, watching out for our patients who are so vulnerable. But who is watching out for us?"
Since 1988, such dedication has drawn Letzeiser and many of her colleagues to serve on NYSNA's Delegate Assembly - a forum from which they can help to improve working conditions for their fellow RNs. This month, the new leaders of the Delegate Assembly take office for the 2002-2003 program year.
Barbara Crane, chair
"I was born a nurse. You know the type - one of the lucky ones who were called to this profession," said Barbara Crane, an ICU nurse at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. "When I was seven and someone got hurt, I got up to my elbows in cuts and bruises when everyone else ran away."
Graduating at the top of her class in 1975 from the Englewood Hospital School of Nursing in New Jersey, Crane began working at St. John's Episcopal Hospital - St. Catherine's original name - 10 months later.
"Nursing is made up of selfless and caring individuals," Crane said. "But I noticed that nurses never said 'no.' They rarely took breaks. They never questioned authority. We were prisoners of our own devotion to our profession - which administrators quickly learned to use against us.
I wanted to help end the silence and servitude and help nurses find their voices."
Crane became involved with NYSNA in the late '70s and was elected to her bargaining unit's Executive Committee a few years later. She became the co-chair in 1996 and was elected to the Delegate Assembly in September 2001.
Later that fall, Crane and the NYSNA committee were forced by an inflexible management to rally the members to strike for 104 days. The strike ended
mandatory overtime and poor staffing at the hospital. "After a full winter in the street, our bargaining unit returned victorious, united, and proud," she said.
Crane now seeks to bring the St. Catherine nurses' "can do" attitude to nurses throughout the state. "Staff nurses have had enough," she said. "Before nurses walk away from their jobs and their profession, I want to intervene and give their concerns a forum for real and permanent change."
Eileen Letzeiser, vice chair
"My goal at first was to go into marketing and sales. But my older sister was a nurse, and in high school I realized that nursing offered incredible choices," Letzeiser said. After completing her nursing education at Pace University while working full-time at Peekskill Community Hospital, she took a position at Westchester County Medical Center in 1985, where she still works.
Letzeiser's involvement with NYSNA grew from her frustration over mandatory overtime. Seeking more information about her union, she started attending Nursing Practice Committee meetings. She became a part of the contract team in 1988, then a NYSNA release-time representative, and is now her bargaining unit's secretary. She has also participated in NYSNA organizing campaigns as a nurse-to-nurse ambassador.
"Because we are a government hospital, I learned there's a political side to our negotiations," Letzeiser said. She responded by participating in meetings of the hospital board and the county legislature's Health and Hospital Committee. This led her to become involved in NYSNA's legislative programs, and to serve as president of District 16, delegate to the ANA House of Delegates, and delegate to the UAN National Labor Assembly.
She said the Delegate Assembly can address workplace issues by being a strong voice for nurses. "We need to do everything possible to support the nurse who goes home in tears because she feels she may have forgotten something during her shift because she was so busy. They may not have PhDs after their names, but these nurses are keeping people alive and teaching new grads more than they ever expected - their knowledge and experience are unique and invaluable."
Katherine Stovall, member at large
"I was a teenager and very much impressed by Diahann Carroll's portrayal on television of Julia, a beautiful, young nurse," said Katherine Stovall, member at large and a delegate from Zone 8. "I was at a point of choosing what I should do after high school graduation. The choices for me seemed pretty limited." College seemed to be an impossible dream and the thought of secretarial school didn't excite her.
Then one day her best friend suggested she attend an open house at Kings County Hospital School of Nursing. On the way home, "Something started to grow in my mind and heart. It was the beginning of a passion that would last until this day. It was the love of nursing."
In her early years, "I was like a lamb, accepting managers' and administrators' decisions. But many times I sensed that those decisions were not fair or even reasonable."
It was then she learned about NYSNA and collective bargaining.
When Stovall began working at Massapequa General Hospital in Seaford in 1987, there were no delegates representing her unit, the OR. "I saw it as an opportunity to finally have a voice on issues and working conditions where I practiced," she said. She served as grievance chair, vice chair, and chair of the unit until the hospital closed in 2000. After that, she chose to work at New Island Hospital in Bethpage because
it is another NYSNA facility.
"Since I began my career in 1966, doors of opportunity have opened onto new vistas of nursing. Nursing has always been a good experience for me, but it has been so much better because of NYSNA's collective bargaining."
With Staff Nurses as leaders:
"NYSNA Wins Million $ Settlement for Bronx RNs"
"First Contracts Won in NY and NJ"
"Success in long fight for staffing guidelines at Montefiore"
"Onondaga Nurses Fight Off Givebacks"
"Coney Island Nurses - National Leaders in Infection Control"
"St. John's Riverside RNs Win Mid-Contract Improvements"