Published Mar 14, 2002
How the use of email helped keep striking nurses together - informed, strong, and united - and holding firm on their demands for safe staffing......
The power of email -
"In E-Mail, Striking Nurses Cast A Wide Web"
Barbara J. Durkin
In E-Mail, Striking Nurses Cast A Wide Web
Virtually every night during the months-long nurses strike at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, Lisa Quirk would sit at her daughter's computer, sign on and devour the latest strike update sent by the leader of the hospital's bargaining unit.
"It was like watching a soap opera," said Quirk, the former head oncology nurse at the Smithtown hospital. "Every single day you had to get your dose."
And then the unthinkable happened: The computer broke, and it was going to take two weeks to fix it. "I went out and bought a laptop for $800, because I could not stand that I wouldn't get the e-mail," Quirk said. "In the middle of a strike, not making much money, I ran out and bought a laptop."
Many of the 474 striking nurses at St. Catherine, who are to return to work March 17 after approving a contract Saturday, found the e-mails equally indispensable. Sent by Barbara Crane, the head of the New York State Nurses Association bargaining unit at St. Catherine's, they were the glue, many of those involved said, that held the strike together.
"This was really our first e-mail strike," said Mark Genovese, spokesman for New York State Nurses Association. "It almost served really as a nightly forum."
The e-mails provided information on negotiations and the latest contract offers, dispelled rumors, listed job opportunities and detailed insurance options for those left without health care benefits. But over time, the e-mails took on a more personal tone, serving as a sounding board for nurses to vent their feelings about the strike and their experiences working elsewhere and sharing offers of support to nurses having a tough time weathering the strike.
"They kept everyone strong and stopped the fear," Quirk said.
In the beginning, the e-mails went out to just a few dozen nurses, beginning as the nurses were preparing to take a strike vote over staffing limits, mandatory overtime and a health plan.
But within weeks of a strike that was to last more than three months, Crane's nightly missives were reaching close to 500 people.
She jotted down new names whenever she could and added anyone who asked to the list; along the way, nurses groups across the country started getting them and sending messages of support. Crane would be bounced off America Online twice, once when representatives from the online service grew suspicious when her e-mail output hit 16,000; and again when she hit 50,000 .
"It just grew and grew and grew," Crane said. "It was an incredible undertaking."
To a large extent, said those involved in the strike, the electronic communication changed the very nature of the strike and helped keep the strike going as long as it did.
Crane, who has been referred to as the strike's Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich and most likely a few other names that can't be repeated, quickly saw the value of the e-mail as a vital means of making sure that no one would feel excluded from what was happening with the strike.
"It was the strike," Crane said. "Without communication, nothing survives."
Crane answered 40 to 70 e-mails daily; often incorporating the correspondence into the group e-mail and signing off the communications,
"For as long as it takes,
Remember, we only have to last one day longer than management."
In the waning days of the strike, Crane's e-mails contained details on the celebration of a new contract. And her sign-off had changed just a bit: "Remember, we only had to last one day longer than management. And we did ..."
"The Longest Nurses Strike in Long Island History is Over"
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