Jailhouse Nurses

Nurses Activism


Rikers Island Nurses Win New Contract

by Genie Abrams

New york State Nurses Association (NYSNA)

The nurses at Rikers Island Correctional Facility are no longer locked up in an old, inadequate contract. The 133 RNs in the Rikers bargaining unit ratified a new, three-year agreement on Aug. 29 after working without a contract since January 1.

The new deal calls for:

* Financial disincentives for mandatory overtime.

Prison Health Services (PHS), the private company that runs the prison under contract with the New York City Corrections Department, will pay an additional $6 per hour whenever RNs are mandated to work overtime. Mandatory OT had been a regular weekly occurrence at Rikers, and PHS had been relying on both voluntary and forced overtime to fill holes in its posted schedules.

* Raises of 4% to the base salary in each of the three years of the contract and hikes of 2% for all experience steps in each year, also. By Jan. 1, 2004, a new Rikers nurse with NO experience will earn $59,523. This makes the Rikers nurses among the highest paid in New York City.

* The opportunity to participate in the PHS 401(K) plan, in addition to staying in the NYSNA pension plan. The nurses had been without a 401(K) plan since PHS took over at Rikers and this issue had been the subject of an ongoing arbitration case. It was important to get the nurses into the plan before the end of the calendar year so they could begin to contribute for 2002.

It wasn't easy to achieve this contract, according to NYSNA labor rep Brian McNally, who negotiated the contract along with the unit's bargaining team.

"Until the end of negotiations, PHS would not discuss its opposition to our most important proposals. No matter how hard the NYSNA committee would work to find agreeable proposals, PHS would always answer with just a 'NO.' But by late July, with pressure from the nurses and the public, PHS quickly changed its attitude."

For example, the union took an ad in the Chief Leader, a civil-service-related newspaper in the city that is widely read by city officials. Also, the prison's corrections officers saw the ad and the negotiations standoff became widely discussed on Rikers Island.

NYSNA nurse rep Mary Lou Cahill pointed out that additional pressure was brought when RNs conducted two informational picketing sessions, distributing literature and marching with signs demanding safe staffing. Those marchers received lots of support from pedestrians and passing motorists.

"These actions all helped pressure PHS into making a reasonable offer at the bargaining table," Cahill said. "They knew the nurses were ready for whatever action was necessary to achieve a fair contract. So at last, thanks to their unity and perseverance, the nurses have the contract they deserve and worked so hard for.">>



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Specializes in Corrections, Psych, Med-Surg.

"The nurses at Rikers Island Correctional Facility are no longer locked up in an old, inadequate contract."

No, but they are locked up IN Rikers every day at work. How they put up with this I don't know, but they deserve every penny.

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