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NY RNs Still on Strike

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NYSNA Represented Nurses: 474

Contract Expired: May 15


Staffing - In June 1998, the hospital, then known as St. John's Episcopal, was cited by the state Health Department for numerous violations - including low RN staffing - after the death of a patient. After this incident, NYSNA fought to establish, and won, a set of unit-by-unit, shift-by-shift, RN-to-patient staffing guidelines that would ensure a safe staffing level.

Within a year, because of complex administrative problems, St. John's faced bankruptcy. Catholic Health System of Long Island offered to buy the facility, but demanded the nurses surrender their staffing guidelines, threatening to close the hospital if they refused.

In the interests of their patients and the community, and expecting to re-visit the issue of staffing guidelines with the next contract - the first with the new employer, the nurses reluctantly agreed to give up the guidelines for that time. Hospital officials promised that they would do their best to maintain a safe staffing level. But staffing remains a problem, and why the nurses voted Nov. 13 and 14 to strike.

Although the hospital is willing to consider reinstating a form of staffing guideline, it is not willing to enable nurses to enforce them through third-party arbitration. Such enforcement is a must if the nurses are to have the legal means to hold the hospital accountable.

Mandatory overtime - A problem that is an outgrowth of short staffing, mandatory overtime fills vacant shifts when there are not enough RNs on staff. Typically, a nursing supervisor orders a nurse to work the next shift, or leaves the nurse with no choice but to "volunteer." Not only is this disruptive to the nurse's life, should the nurse have children in daycare, but working an additional eight-hour shift is exhausting and dangerous for patient care.

The nurses want a provision stating the hospital will not require overtime except in an emergency. The hospital prefers to use such overtime as a regular staffing tool to fill vacancies.

Health coverage - As a means of encouraging veteran nurses to stay at St. Catherine's, NYSNA is seeking to improve their health benefits plan. NYSNA is offering a plan that would be more financially stable and offer far better benefits than the hospital's current self insured plan. The NYSNA plan would also offer the nurses the option of retirement health insurance, which is not available through the hospital. Although the plan is competitively priced, the hospital has inflated the figures to say it is too expensive.

12-Hour Shifts - Currently many RNs in specialty units are working "flextime" - a schedule of three days of 12-hour shifts. Not only does this schedule provide for greater continuity of patient care, it is attractive tool for recruiting nurses. The hospital is seeking the right to discontinue flextime with eight weeks notice, should the nursing shortage end. This would disrupt the lives of nurses and would lead to even more resignations.

Refusal to Work Overtime

St. Catherine's RNs were the first in the nation to officially refuse to volunteer for overtime last month. Under a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, a union can call for such a concerted action if it serves a 10-day notice.

Nurses Are Exercising Their Rights

This is a time when our nation is recognizing the crucial role of all who serve the public, especially in health care. It is now more important than ever that our health care system be able to respond to emergencies and provide the necessary care.

Yet the Medical Center continues to ignore nurses' concerns about regular, safe staffing.

In the United States, when employees believe their concerns are not being addressed they have a legally protected right to take action.


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It's cold and raining here in Portland, Oregon, as I wait for my polypro underwear to dry, so I can return to the picket line for the 20th day of our strike. All I can do at this point is offer you my strongest empathy, support and respect for your incredible stand. We are truly all in this together in the struggle to improve this profession, to make it a more attractive option for bright young people, and to demand the level of patient care that we know our patients deserve. We are definitely with you in spirit!


Oregon Health & Sciences University

Portland, OR

Oregon Nurses Assoc>>

Just one of many messages of support the Long Island nurses have been receiving from around the country. Some letters will bring a tear to your eye as you read what nurses write about their own daily struggles to get through the day in hospitals across the nation & how they support the St Catherines nurses in taking their stand. To read the letters, see:


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NYSNA is helping the RNs find other employment, arrange for insurance, etc

St. Catherine of Siena Strike: Resources for Strikers


NYSNA is working to help RNs who had received tentative work schedules prior to the strike, with approval to use personal, sick, holiday, or vacation time that have not been paid. We are helping the National Labor Relations Board collect information so that we can file a charge against the hospital. We urge you to call Emily Cabrera at the NRLB: 718.330.7727. We want to make sure you receive what you are owed.

Temporary Employment

The single most important thing you can do during a strike is find work elsewhere.

Brunswick Hospital is in great need of critical care nurses. They closed CCU this week because they could not staff it. They are hiring at $35./hr., per diem. Contact Sidney Ramauth: 631.789.7212.

Winthrop hospital in Mineola needs O.R. nurses. Contact Grace Rowans if interested. # (516) 663 2041

If you are interested in temporary work at Westchester Medical Center, contact the Excel Agency: 914.962.6204. You can also contact nurse recruiter Eileen Letzeiser, who is a NYSNA collective bargaining member at that facility, at 914.493.2731.

Interim Healthcare is looking for nurses to work in telemetry at Central Suffolk Hospital, Riverhead. Available shifts: 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M., and 7:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. Call Judy or Ellen: 631.689.8920.

Details and Instructions for:

Appeal Unemployment Insurance Denial

Emergency Funds Available

What to do about your mortgage

Filing for Unemployment Insurance


Health Records


Child Health Plus


and personal items


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Directions to strike line:

St. Catherine's nurses are on the strike line every day from 7:00 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. Effective January 2, 2002, strike line hours are 11:00 A.M. - 3:00 P.M. daily, and Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:00 A.M. - 3:00 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. - 8:30 P.M.

The RNs would like nothing better than to have company. The line is at the foot of the hill, at the entrance to the hospital at 50 St. Johnland Road (Route 25A) in Smithtown. If you plan to walk the line, take note of the weather forecast, and dress accordingly.

Directions at:


or Call for details:

NYSNA Strike Hotline: 1.800.724.NYRN, ext. 287

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Latest Developments:

Nurses will picket Catholic Health Services Job Fair, Thursday, January 10 from 10:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. at the Transforming Leadership Center, 100 Baylis Road, Melville, NY.

St. Catherine's Nurses Reach Out to the Smithtown Community

In their most ambitious effort to date, striking registered nurses from St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center traveled throughout the Smithtown community the afternoon of Saturday, January 5, to inform the public about the serious patient care issues they are fighting to resolve.

Teams of nurses visited several area shopping centers, distributing leaflets and talking to the public one-on-one about the strike issues. They also began circulating a petition asking the administrations of Catholic Health Service and St. Catherine of Siena to resume negotiations. These informational leaflets can be read here online (Adobe Acrobat Reader required; download a free Acrobat Reader.)

Basic Principles

Caring for the Sick is a Sacred Trust

Where Does the Money Go?

Why are the St. Catherine of Siena Nurses on Strike?


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This next article is written by Mark Genovese, from NYSNA. It will appear in Statewide Report

"Living Outside the 'Comfort Zone' -

St. Catherine's RN Meet the Challenge of Getting on With Life During a Strike

By Mark Genovese

To Gail Gruber, the birth of a grandchild last month was to have been one of the happiest moments of her life. Yet she remembers the event with mixed feelings. This is because the birth was held at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown? the hospital she and 474 of her colleagues have been on strike against since Nov. 26, 2001.

It was difficult for Gruber to walk back into the building and to see replacements doing her job. "Yet, I kept my mouth shut," she said.

But fellow RN Harriet Cogan didn't. When visiting a patient in the hospital, she asked the replacement: "Why are you doing this? Do you go around from strike to strike?" "I go all over," the replacement replied, "and I don't blame the nurses here for going out." The replacement nurse told Cogan: "Our agency contract says we won't have to care for more than 6 patients at one time."

One of the reasons RNs at St. Catherine's are on strike is because the ratio of patients to nurses at St. Catherine's was 12 to 1 and greater. "If this isn't enough to keep you motivated," Cogan asked, "what is?"

"The Bills are Mostly Paid"

The toll the strike at St. Catherine's is taking on the participating nurses is emotional as well as financial. Yet the nurses are finding ways to stay strong.

Like many others, Gruber was pleased to have Christmas and New Year's Day off, having worked the holidays many times in her career. But now the bills are coming in, Gruber said, noting that she had built up some savings over the years. "But I don't see how the young girls can make it."

Four days after the strike started, Diane Rettig's husband lost his job in a layoff. Since then the family has been staggering the bills and "maxing out" the credit cards. Her children found some IOUs in their Christmas stockings, "but they're old enough now to understand," she said.

Randi Stewart, a single parent with 3 children, has already made arrangements with the utility companies. Fortunately they have been sympathetic. "It's a struggle, but the bills are being mostly paid," she aid. She's found temporary work, but it's been inconsistent. The week before she was called to work six days, this week she has only been called to work one. "It's inconvenient to wait by the phone every day for someone to call. But I need a paycheck."

Cogan's children are grown, and she's been covered by her husband's health

insurance. "But you get to depend on having that second salary. So I haven't been using the credit card, paying in cash instead. You see where the money goes." Cogan's family has been through a similar situation before, when her husband was laid off. "We knew we were going to get through then, and we'll get through now."

New Kid On The Block

To walk into a new, temporary job on the first day "was a little scary but exciting," Rettig said. "I hadn't filed a new job application in 26 years." Rettig applied for work with three agencies and found a per-diem job at a nursing home near Port Jefferson, working four nights this week and four the next.

"After being someplace for 21 years, I'm suddenly the new kid on the block," said Vickie Herman. "I didn't know the paperwork, procedures, and routine. It took a full shift to become familiar." Her new coworkers were warm, receptive, and willing to help. "'Oh! Thank God you're here!' They said. They're not on strike, but everybody is running short on staff."

"I started a job yesterday in a nursing home, and it made me miss the job I had!" Gruber said. Instead of two weeks of orientation she was given only four hours. Then she was put on a unit alone, doing tasks she hadn't performed in years. She wound up working one hour overtime, without taking any breaks. A family member told her: "That's not why you're on strike ? so you can be abused at another facility."

The nursing job market hasn't been on the side of Lois Everett, however, because she works in a specialty area. Everett has lost her health insurance because the COBRA payment was astronomical. Her four children will be covered by Child Health Plus, while she is receiving coverage through her husband's health insurance. But it's costing them an additional $500 per month. As a result the family has had to dip into their savings. "I'm always asking myself lately: 'Am I spending too much?'" Everett said.

The uncertainty has also been hard on the children. "As much as we try, they notice that there's been a basic change in our daily routine. They're quiet about it, but it affects them."

Finding Determination Amid Frustration

For many, visiting the picket line and talking with other nurses helps keep life in perspective.

"If I have a bad day, I find I can go the line and talk with the people who are there," Everett said. She also makes it a point to provide support for others. At membership meetings she often asks questions for those on her unit who may feel intimidated about speaking in a group. "People who don't go to the meetings are the ones who weaken first because they have been out of the loop," Everett said. "Your support system is the people who are committed to the union."

"I really try to keep things as normal as possible ? not throw in too many monkey wrenches," Herman said. "And you know what? I'm still going on vacation at the end of February. There's no way St. Catherine's and CHS is going to take away my life."

Rettig, who has been working at St. John's and St. Catherine's for 26 years, is on strike because she fell asleep at the wheel on the way home from working overtime one night about 10 years ago. Her car hit the curb and a telephone pole. Her injuries weren't serious, "but I said: 'I can't do this anymore.'"

"What keeps me going is knowing what nursing was once like," said Cogan, who started as a nurse in 1969. "We were able to take care of our patients. We need to get it back there again." Cogan's son is an RN at Winthrop University Hospital and her daughter is in her first year in nursing school. "I want them to know their mother is committed to this. I'm doing this for them."

"I'm A Survivor"

The nurses have learned a great deal about themselves the past two months. It has forced many of them out of what they have called their "comfort zone," made them re-evaluate themselves, and tested their strength.

"I've learned I'm a survivor," Gruber said. "I always knew I could do anything." Gruber keeps a Newsday clipping of the first day of the strike, which includes a photo of her with a group of other nurses waving. "We were saying to administration, 'See? We're out here and we're surviving.' Every time I look at it now, I think 'She who laughs last, laughs best.' I laugh a lot, and that's the way you have to look at it."

"I've learned to look at the other side of the coin," said Rettig. "I've had time with my family. I've been able to cook dinner for my family every night. I've had the strength to do things." Rettig said.

"It was awkward to start out going into another hospital but this experience has been a bit of a confidence builder," Stewart said. "I now know I have the skills to go out and get a job anywhere."

"I'm a strong person, and I can take anything from anybody," Herman added.

"If you knock me down it's just a matter of time before I'll get up and you'll see my face again. When you have support from your family and friends who can provide you with insight, you can make it through anything. Just keep your heart strong and your head clear."

"Being on strike is difficult for everyone involved," said Lorraine Seidel, director of NYSNA's Economic & General Welfare program. "It's a test of the spirit that can really push people to their limits. But the St. Catherine's nurses are showing that they are up to the challenge and they're inspiring nurses throughout the nation."

Stand up and take a bow St. Catherine's nurses, you absolutely deserve it.


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another poem from the husband of one of the striking RNs on Long Island:

"I never knew

Seventy plus years I have lived, strong and straight,

Without any sickness, without any hate.

I've have raised two good children, in a good life.

I have been a faithful husband, still in love with my wife.

I have tried to helped others in the way that we should,

And worshiped my God as best as I could.

Why now would I become so helpless and weak?

Racked with unbearable pain, I'm unable to sleep.

At the foot of my bed appeared a nurse dressed in white

Again and again, all through the night.

I never knew helplessness or fear 'til that day.

With a smile and a touch, all my fear went away.

Nurses tell the truth however painful that truth may be.

They soothe our pain; they help both my family and me.

In my eyes they saw questions, when my voice was too weak.

They answered with kindness, no words did they speak.

In our darkest hours, they give our dignity back,

Helping us fight the good fight, helping supply what we lack.

Nurses tending the sick of the whole human race,

They help us find strength to face what we must face.

There is never any pity pity is hurtful at best.

They feel what we feel, they empathize the rest.

They know without words, they all understand.

They do what is best, with heart and with hand.

With all of their experience they lead the way.

They brighten the future; they ring in a new day.

With their help and their knowledge, the danger has passed.

My strength has returned, I 'm going home at last.

My wife gets back her husband, my children their dad,

And I understand more than I ever have.

I have again learned a lesson life is to be lived.

I was cared for by nurses who have so much to give.

How do you repay them for their compassion and sharing?

How do you thank them for their knowledge and caring?

They must be strong with strength from within.

They see us at our lowest and they won't let us give in.

Of all I have learned, this I know to be true,

We can never repay them for all the good that they do.

They are our daughters, our sons, our fathers and mothers,

Nurses have answered a calling, unlike any other.

I hope God in his wisdom; he is wisest of all,

Has a special place in heaven when nurse angels fall."

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originally posted by -jt

it's cold and raining here in portland, oregon, as i wait for my polypro underwear to dry, so i can return to the picket line for the 20th day of our strike. all i can do at this point is offer you my strongest empathy, support and respect for your incredible stand. we are truly all in this together in the struggle to improve this profession, to make it a more attractive option for bright young people, and to demand the level of patient care that we know our patients deserve. we are definitely with you in spirit!

mh, rn

oregon health & sciences university

portland, or

oregon nurses assoc>>



just one of many messages of support the long island nurses have been receiving from around the country. some letters will bring a tear to your eye as you read what nurses write about their own daily struggles to get through the day in hospitals across the nation & how they support the st catherines nurses in taking their stand. to read the letters, see:




i just wanted to say that i agree with your cause. if we nurses do not stand together and fight for the administrators to make changes that guarantee patien safety the problems will only get worse. some nurses think striking is bad, but if management does not want to listen to us who are the bedside risking our licenses every day, they leave us no choice. administrators are hoping that women wont grow balls and stand up for the patients and there license. you all keep up the good fight and make them listen to you. if we do not change the nursing enviroment, who is gonna take care of us when we get old.

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RNs still on strike - day # 61 - 26th negotiation session

So far, the Hospital has given in to:

the RN's demand for Safe Staffing Guidelines/ratios and the RNs will have the ability to enforce them thru the grievance procedure and binding arbitration

the RN's demand to keep 12 hr shifts

the RN's demand to improve health benefits

the RN's demand for additional pay for experience

Still waiting for finalizing:

the RN's demand to provide health benefits for retiring nurses

the RN's demand to provide health benefits for all part timers

the RN's demand to prohibit mandatory OT except for declared emergencies & to pay double-time wages in event such emergency is declared & mandatory OT is utilized

Strike continues....... negotiations continue

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NYSNA nurses at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center have now been on strike for 70 days, with little movement by management at the negotiating table. RNs remain committed to a staffing policy that protects patients and respects nurses, inlcuding bans on mandatory overtime. Read the latest strike developments on NYSNA's website, http://www.nysna.org. >>

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