Nurses Activism



I am a Clinical Educator and part of a large corp. hospital system. Over the last two yrs, there has been lots of Union activity in our area. Not all of it is at the corp I work for.

There are 12 hospitals in the group, and 3 of them have gone Union. Personally, I'm not a Union supporter, but that's neither here or there.

The staff in the Union hospital have begun to refuse pt. assignments (even if the have no pts and only charting to do). The managers have not been able to terminate these individuals. Because administration is afraid of the Union, they have had to start with an oral warning. This seems ridulous to me. This is just one example of what is going on. Attitudes are very poor, moral is terrible. The attitude is "The most amount of money for the least amount of work." Some of the staff have even lied about what they can and/or can't do. This involves pt. care.

Has anyone else experienced this type of thing? If so what did you do?

FLO(from the land of OZ)...judy


110 Posts

The employer and employee relationship has deteriorated and I suspect both are lying to each other. Typically, I fault the employer for allowing the unions to get a foothold. If the adminstration wanted to keep the union activity out of their facility they should not have pushed the nurses to the point of seeking union representation.

When adminstration pushes the staff to the point that union activities occur, the risk is that union activities occur !!

The fault truly lies with adminstration, it is their failure. Unfortunately, it demostrates adminstration does not "know the staff and the needs of the staff". If they missed this and they did, they most likely are not intuitive enough to make corrections and resolve this issue.

I'm sorry, if you are in management, I suspect you are in for a few bad months. Good Luck.

Jenny P

1,164 Posts

Specializes in CV-ICU.

I would agree with RNed about the fact that if the facility and administration were fair, honest, and up front with the staff, there would be no need for a union. Union activity only happens when staff is totally unhappy with the work situation. And once a union is in, it is almost impossible to get them out-- staff never will trust administration again.

As far as "staff in the Union hospital have begun to refuse pt. assignments (even if they have no pts and only charting to do)" something is fishy there. I have never heard of such a thing UNLESS the staff has lost a patient and must do the required charting to finish up that chart.

I would probably request not to take another patient after a messy code because I would have the paperwork to finish and also get myself emotionally ready to handle another patient. Would I REFUSE another patient assignment after a code? It is possible that I might DELAY it until I was caught up (but I have never had to yet. My facility understands the stress and that I'm human). If morale is as low as you claim, neither side trusts the other. It is possible that you are only hearing the administrations' side of the story, and not the staff's side (as to why they are refusing pt. assignments).

BTW, I am a staff nurse in a hospital where our "union" is the MNA. Having a union run by the professional association is a good fit for me as it is nurses speaking out for nurses. I have never heard of "the most amount of money for the least amount of work" with this type of a union.


2,709 Posts

#1 I think some more info is needed there. It doesnt sound like you have been given an accurate picture of what is happening. Nurses cant & dont refuse pt assignments just like that, especially not because they have nothing else to do. They PROTEST certain pt assignments by submitting "Assignment Despite Objection" forms & do so for good reasons like inadequate staffing, floating to unfamiliar areas and areas they are not qualified to work in, unsafe pt loads, unmanageable acuities, being forced to work overtime while exhausted, etc.

To REFUSE a pt assignment would be "insubordination" and even in a union hospital can be considered "just cause" grounds for termination. An employee can be terminated for a Just Cause whether they are unionized or not.

The nurse, when ordered by a supervisor to take what the nurse deems to be an unsafe, or otherwise inappropriate assignment, cant refuse but can work "under protest" - which means the hospital knowingly forced her into the unsafe situation despite her objections and the hospital will be held liable & accountable for anything that goes wrong because of it.

#2 Youre correct - the hospital cant terminate nurses who file a protest of assignment - because there is NO JUST CAUSE for which to terminate them. They are doing nothing wrong in exercizing their right to protest assignments they are not comfortable with, but if they werent unionized, they probably would have been terminated long ago for that.


You can thank your administration for that. The war tactics they pulled during the nurses organizing campaign to try to keep them from unifying together were despicable. Not exactly the kind of thing that breeds harmony & good feelings.


104 Articles; 5,349 Posts

Specializes in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds.

AMEN, Sister!!!


4 Posts

I just have to respond to the clinical educator from Kansas City. I too work in KCMO, at probably the same hospital that GypsyRose works at. It's funny the difference in perception that one has when they work in different areas. I also have been very closely involved with the union movement.

At our hospital, they have done things like increase our nurse/pt ratios to dangerous levels. I have talked to nurses who are responsible for as many as 14 patients. The number of code blues have significantly increased. Nurses feel like all they are doing is passing meds, and putting out fires. The corporation we work for is a prime example of why we are facing a nursing shortage. In a time when nurses should be treated better in order to retain them, they are treating nurses horribly, even telling them to leave if they don't like the conditions. And a great many have left. Our ICU is filled with nothing but new grads. How scary is that, to have one of the largest urban ICU's in the area, with all new grads? Another example is on my unit, they had a nurse two WEEKS out of orientation as a new grad charging our huge, overwhelmingly busy med/surg unit. Now, how long is it going to take before that nurse is burnt out by the huge stress levels? Another new grad was oriented by another nurse NOT to take report on patients if they were covering an LPN, he was also offended because a patient got upset when he didn't know what meds he was passing. Now, things must have really changed since I was a new grad, I used to look up every med I gave before I gave it. What if that LPN's patient goes bad? How is he going to help? Has our profession really been reduced to a mindless job of popping meds out of a package, and giving them blindly or ignoring our responsiblities? Unfortuately, the answer is yes. Nurses are stretched so thinly due to the high staffing levels, it's a matter of self preservation to omit anything they can. A nurse on my unit was there til 10pm the other night just finishing her work (shift ends at 7pm). This is nurse who has been nursing for only 2 yrs, and is thinking of quitting because she is burned out by the stress. 2 years. This is exactly what I am talking about, that these business people in charge of healthcare are the ones who are CAUSING the nursing shortage. They must be stopped. They will never be stopped in their quest for higher profits if we don't stop them. And patients are dying because of their decisions. A new one is that patients have a right to fall. I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. When a pt is confused, they depend on the nurse to protect them. Now, they don't have the right to refuse treatment or to walk out of the hosptial, but they have the right to fall, get a subdural, and never be right again. A classic example of the idiots who are running healthcare today.

And all I can say about the rumor of the union nurses refusing assignments is hogwash. They are filling our assignment despite objection forms, to document the unsafe staffing levels, and shift the responsiblity of poor care from their license to the hospital. I mean, if a patients dies from poor care, and the nurse has documented that he/she complained about unsafe staffing to their management, she is doing all she can to protect her license. Which, by the way is being put on the line everyday by the money hungry execs. To that educator, I say, go upstairs and talk to those nurses on the front lines. Then you will see exactly why we are facing a nursing shortage. It's the job GyspyRose, it's the job. Now, we must continue on our quest to improve it.


6 Posts

To the individual who replied to my post on Unions/attitudes:

I'm sure I know where you work. We work for the same corp, but not in the same hospital. Anyway, I can assure you that the refusals and lies are no rumors. Just an FYI, I've been in nursing for a long long time, and have seen many changes. I see great problems on both sides. I also work PRN as staff frequently, so it's not as if I am far removed from the situation. All I hear is complaining. I don't know what the answer is, but the current trend toward unions will not work.



2,709 Posts

The "trend" for unions in nursing started in NYC 40 yrs ago & there is a big difference from the time when we had to just hope the employer would do the right thing by us. For us, unifying together HAS worked. You may hear complaining because of the atmosphere your employer has fostered but look around & you'll see nurses are doing a lot more than just complaining to improve the conditions they work in.

If you think that the trend towards nurses unifiying & having a legally-binding say in what those conditions will be & having a voice in the decision-making that affects them, their jobs, their licenses, & their practice will not work, then look again. The days of nurses sitting around, being walked all over, and just waiting for a fair hand-out & proper treatment from their employers who can change their minds and the rules on a whim are over. Look North, East, & West. Those days have been over around here for decades.


2,709 Posts

Long-time unionized nurses would beg to differ with that statement because they know from experience that the opposite is true...... The proof:

Staten Island University Hospital Nurses and NYSNA ABOLISH mandatory overtime, GUARANTEE safe staffing levels

RNs Approve Contract

STATEN ISLAND, NYC - Oct. 11, 2001 - For the past three months, intolerable working conditions have made it impossible for Staten Island University Hospital to hire even one registered nurse.

RNs are hoping this situation will now change with the approval Wednesday evening of a new three-year contract that calls for improvements in the RNs' working environment. The 840 RNs are represented by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). Their most recent three-year contract expired March 31.

Under the new contract, after February 1, 2002, management can no longer require nurses to work overtime, except during disasters and severe weather conditions.

"For the past several months," said NYSNA Nursing Representative Laura Kennedy, RN, "instead of hiring enough nurses to meet the hospital's staffing needs, management has been filling vacancies in its schedule by holding nurses over from the previous shift. Such double shifts are exhausting for the nurses and dangerous for patient care."

** Provisions to maintain safe RN-to-patient staffing throughout the hospital will be enforceable through third party arbitration.

The new contract also attempts to correct many of the problems that had been driving veteran nurses away from the hospital and discouraging new nurses from applying:

* Part of the cause of the present nursing shortage is inadequate compensation. Nurses have reported that they want better pay for the work they do. In this contract, the RNs' base salary will increase by a total of 16% over the life of the contract.

* The nurses also won increases in additional pay for longevity and for earning specialty certifications.

* In an effort to retain its more experienced nurses, the hospital has agreed to provide nurses with up to $4,000 per year to pay for health care coverage after they retire.

* Part-timers who work more days than they are originally hired for will receive bonus pay.

* The hospital's requirement that experienced RNs who transfer to new units will work rotating shifts for a year was eliminated.

* RNs working in home care often have to complete an extensive amount of paperwork on their own time. They will now receive 7.5 hours per week for paperwork time.

This is just a sample of the improvements made with this agreement.

"University Hospital administration had been telling us for months that they wanted to become a leading employer for registered nurses," said NYSNA Labor Representatives Elaine Charpentier. "The nurses replied that there were a lot of workplace problems that needed correction first. We hope we've now taken the first step."

With more than 33,000 members, NYSNA is the leading organization for registered nurses in New York state and is one of the largest representatives of RNs for collective bargaining in the nation. A multi-purpose organization, NYSNA fosters high standards for nursing education and practice and works to advance the profession through legislative activity. For more information, call Mark Genovese at NYSNA: 518.782.9400, ext. 353. >>>>>>>


2,709 Posts

the proof:


RNs at Columbia-Presbyterian Ratify Break-through Contract

New York City, Dec. 21, 2001

Just 2 short yrs ago, the 1600 RNs at a famous NYC hospital were 1 hr away from walking out on strike over staffing issues when the hospital finally blinked first, gave an offer the nurses could accept, and the strike was averted at the last minute. Obviously the administration learned its lesson about nurse unity & strength from that experience because THIS time,....... without even the threat of a strike......

Registered nurses at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center Thursday overwhelmingly approved a three-year contract that provides staffing guarantees, health coverage upon retirement, and breakthrough base salaries that will exceed $60,000.

The 1,600 RNs are represented by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). Their most recent two-year contract was due to expire on Dec. 31. This new contract reflects a dramatic change in the status of labor management relations at the facility. It was negotiated in just 12 sessions and completed before the expiration of the current agreement - something that has not happened in the last 20 years. Just two years ago, the nurses were just minutes away from striking because of disagreements on staffing issues......... ......

This contract gives RNs at Presbyterian the best contract in the city, said Donna Verry, NYSNA nursing representative. It shows that after several years of rocky relations, there was a real effort on the hospitals part to address the nursing shortage and make Columbia-Presbyterian an attractive place for RNs to work. The agreement includes:

Safe staffing guarantees:

A mechanism to allow the nurses to enforce unit-by-unit, shift-by-shift guidelines for safe RN staffing will be expanded throughout the entire hospital. Under their most recent contract, this enforceability provision was in effect in only one area of the hospital. Guidelines can be enforced through grievance and third-party arbitration if they are not implemented by hospital management. A full-time labor management committee will also be established to continuously monitor staffing levels and staffing related problems..........

Retiree health:

Recognizing that health care coverage is an important issue for veteran registered nurses, this contract will provide retiring RNs with up to $2,500 each year tax free to cover the cost of purchasing health insurance.........


The nurses will receive a 12% salary increase over the life of the contract. The base rate for staff nurses will increase from its current $48,500 to $60,570 in the contracts final year. RNs will also receive a retention bonus equal to 1% of their salary in the contracts third year........

Additional compensation:

The cap on the experience differential was raised from $25,000 after 29 years to $29,000 after 32 years, while the differential for working the evening and night shifts was raised from $5,400 per year to $6,000 per year. Veteran RNs who also mentor orientees called preceptors will also receive a raise in their pay for such duties........

Continuing education:

Recognizing the need to help RNs keep their job skills current, the contract increases tuition reimbursement from 15 credits and $6,000 per year to 18 credits and $10,000 per year. The contract also increases the amount of time an RN is eligible to take as sick leave, and provides for additional labor-management committees to work on other workplace issues............

The hospital understands the need to maintain communication between management and the nurses is ongoing, Verry said.

Thanks to the collective effort of the nurses, management now recognizes its obligation to provide for appropriate nurse staffing and safe patient care.........

NYSNA: http://www.NYSNA.org >>>>>>

These 1,600 unionized nurses just raised the bar for every nurse in our entire city. It all happened because the nurses stood strongly UNITED & committed to each other for the last contentious negotiations & went right down to the wire without blinking. The hospital became enlightened with that "education".

Now, because of what these nurses did, every hospital in the city will have to pay attention & make improvements to be competitve or lose staff - union, nonunion, NYSNA represented facilities & facilities that have nurses represented by any other labor union. They can all thank these 1600 nurses.

Call it the trickle down effect. Thats how a strong union of nurses in the area helps EVERY working nurse in the area and its what this organization has been doing for more than 30 yrs in this city.

And thats how we set the standard, raise the bar, and establish the norm.

None of this would have ever happened without the nurses being united and without the legal rights that afford them the ability, as a union, to stand their ground.

Specializes in Trauma acute surgery, surgical ICU, PACU.

Same conditions Veggie64 describes exist at my unionized hospital. I phone my union several times, only to be told that there's nothing they can do.

Its not having a union that makes a difference, but having an effective union. How to make the union effective? Get involved, make sure they know what concerns affect the real nurses who do the job, and make sure they are fighting to change things. My union sometimes seems like a bunch of older women who can't handle nursing any more who still like to talk the talk.


2,709 Posts

more proof that unionizing as a strong, effective union of nurses does "work":

Heres a sample of how nurses in unity can take on a giant ... and the far-reaching impact it has when we do......

excerpt from "Honoring Our Past - Building Our Future "

by Julie Pavri, RN

New York City's municipal (city) hospitals had undergone years of neglect. Buildings were deteriorating, supplies were deficient, and equipment was antiquated and unsafe. Nurses were saddled with a host of non-nursing functions - from distributing linen to substituting for pharmacists - and the situation was worsening The hospitals were severely understaffed, with only 3,400 of 8,000 professional nursing positions filled. Receiving an annual starting salary of $5,150 for a 40 hour work-week, nurses were paid less than city garbage collectors. Nurses were leaving daily for jobs in New York's voluntary hospitals where salaries were better, supplies and equipment were more plentiful and staffing levels averaged 80%.

An article in the New York Daily News described what a new graduate nurse could expect in a city hospital: "After 3 years of hard work and dedicated study...She will work 40 hours a week, not including the half-hour allowed for meals. The half-hour meal period will become academic because she will usually be so busy she wont have a chance to eat. The new nurse will find that she is responsible for municipal wards, sometimes 70 or 80 patients. If there isnt enough time in her 8 hour shift to do all her work (as is often the case), and she is required to stay overtime, she will receive no extra pay. How long will the nurse stay in the city hospital?"

When John Lindsay campaigned for mayor of New York, he published a White Paper on conditions in the city hospitals. His proposal to "restore the status of nurses and to attract nurses of high caliber to bring our hospitals back up to the standard of excellence which they should set," secured the votes of countless nurses and raised their hopes for better days ahead.

Contract proposals developed by the bargaining unit's nurses and presented to the city in October closely reflected the Mayor-elect's recommendations. These proposals included salary increases to make the city hospitals salaries "in any way competitive with the local voluntary hospital for a dwindling supply of Registered Professional Nurses." Premium compensation for over -time, holidays, and weekend work was proposed to remedy the practice of giving nurses only the equivalent time off for overtime and holidays.

Veronica Driscoll of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) explained "they dont ususally even get that because there would be literally no professional nurses left to cover wards and floors if they took the time off later".

Other proposals included additional pay for prior experience and education, fully paid health insurance and a shortened work week. City officials, however, were reluctant to enter into negotiations before the Lindsay adminsitration took office, and the contract expired with no agreement in place.

In January, representatives of the nurses sent Mayor Lindsay a congratulatory letter reminding him of his campaign promises, but the nurses were bitterly disappointed when the city offered only a one-grade salary increase and rejected all other proposals. The bargaining team, composed of unit nurses Beatrice Shorr, Ruth Wasserman, and Marguerite Thibodeau, NYSNA staff members Mary Finnin and Veronica Driscoll, and NYSNA attorney Robert Jones, refused the citys counter-proposal. Negotiations quickly reached an impasse. In February, NYSNA requested mediation and fact-finding arbitration proceedings.

Discouraged by the delay and lack of progress, it was a difficult period for both NYSNA staff and the nurses. Bargaining units began to meet more frequently to keep its members informed and meetings grew increasingly intense as unit leader nurses struggled to hold their groups together. Discussion turned to "what do we have to fight with?" Bellevue's bargaining unit chairman Mary Tomaselli, RN, raised the issue of mass resignation.

Standing up to give a speech with her knees knocking she said "People are resigning from here every week. The impact is not dramatic... suppose 200 of us went at the same time?"

The decision to resign was not an easy one, and discussion continued for several weeks.

Nurses who resigned would lose pensions and vacation time, and many were graduates of the hospital's school of nursing, and intensely loyal to the hospital. "Bellevue has been good to me..... theres an internal kind of fight while standing up trying to convince people to do this, saying to yourself 'when push comes to shove, am I going to do it?' Am I going to have the guts to do it?"

As the bargaining units struggled to plan their next steps, mediation sessions were held. NYSNA Assistant Executive Secretary Mary Finnin describes the sessions: "We presented our proposals; the city presented its refusals." Extensive radio, newspaper, and TV coverage on the plight of the nurses and conditions at the hospitals raised public awareness:

"The nurses in city hospitals have always put the welfare of their patients first. There has never been a threat to strike at the hospitals by the nurses. But our members throughout the city are threatening to resign en mass if steps are not taken to alleviate the critical nurses situation."

The frustration of the nurses was vividly described: "The care given is inadequate and substandard, not because the nurses are not trying or dont care, but simply because it is physically impossible for them to do the work assigned....Day after day, Im required to violate my principles and the principles of my profession. I would rather resign than see this continue."

In April, the nurses frustration reached a climax. Forty-one nurses in the Bronx Hospital Center bargaining unit, chaired by Margot Hahn, RN, spontaneously submitted their resignations. Veronica Driscoll reported to the Board of Directors, "The nurses believe they can no longer condone conditions which are legally, professionally, ethically, and physically indefensible." The day following the 41 Bronx resignations, Mary Tomaselli, RN and other nurses at Bellevue resigned. "... it was a very stressful time, it was a very uncertain time for us, because it was new ground, it was something that we just never thought we would be doing. You know, we just dont do these things like this."

Nurses at other city hospitals quickly followed suit. In all, 1,480 nurses - nearly half of all the nurses employed by the citys Department of Hospitals - submitted resignations effective May 23rd.

After 8 mediation sessions, the city finally agreed to submit the dispute to fact-finding arbitration. NYSNA brought in expert nursing witnesses, nurses holding various positions in city hospitals, schools of nursing board members, and physicians to support the nurses demands, while the hospitals braced for the impending resignations by reducing admissions and preparing patients for discharge. The fact-finder terminated proceedings on May 17 because of the impending crisis. Late the following night, the city and the nurses agreed to accept the fact-finders report.

The agreement raised salaries to $6,400 by the following January. Shift differentials were increased; education, and experience were taken into consideration; and tuition assistance was established. Neither over-time nor the shorter work-week were included then but the fact-finders report called for a short study on non- nursing duties and NYSNA did achieve agreements on those items later. "Perhaps more than anything else, this assures the nurses that their rights to function as professional persons at long last was recognized."

The fact-finder summed up the decisions, "The over-riding consideration here is the forthwith resolution of this dispute so that essential nursing services in the city hospitals will not further be disrupted nor the morale of this highly-skilled, dedicated, and loyal professional group be permitted to deteriorate."

Jubliant nurses, relieved that the ordeal was finally over, rejoiced in the results of professionals joining together to improve their working conditions.

An editorial in the American Journal of Nursing noted, " The remarkable outcome of this story is that the administration of the largest city in this country had to bow to a fantastically effective combination of forces. There was the grim determination of half the city hospital nurses to seek work elsewhere if the administration failed to come through with a settlement which could attract other nurses. And, in NYSNA, the nurses had a sophisticated professional nursing organization representing them, using impeccable and skillful political, negotiating, and public relations techniques....

Professional nurses have proved that they could succeed in the big game of labor disputes".

The settlement had both local and NATIONAL impact. Within 24 hours, New York City voluntary hospitals were now considering raising salries to compete with the municipal hospitals and Mayor Lindsay lifted a job hiring freeze on non-professional positions, thus relieving the nurses of non-nursing duties. A NATIONAL salary goal of $6,500 per year was adopted by the ANA and the city nurses received special commendations:

"To a degree more apparent than in many years, NYSNAs efforts were successful in improving the economic and professional status of many nurses directly, and of ALL nurses by precedent and through inspiration. The very success of the NY nurses represented by NYSNA is credited at the San Francisco ANA Convention with providing the impetus for the adoption of ANA's first National Salary Goal. This in turn strengthens the real economic security of every career nurse now and in the future"

Widely publicized in the public and professional press, suddenly nurses were aware of their plight and raised their voices by organizing...... and organizing with NYSNA... all across the state.

(The items that the city hospital nurses of NYSNA's District 13 fought for & won raised the bar for nursing throughout New York state, became standard items in NYSNA contracts, remain so to this day, and are continuously improved upon. They also had NATIONAL impact for nurses in hospitals throughout the nation. Setting precendent for nurse's working conditons, salaries, compensation and work-day, these nurses also raised the standard for nurses all across the country and NYSNA reaffirmed its place as the leader and model for representing nurses in collective bargaining)

The year was 1966 when the battle began and 1967 when it was won by these courageous and unified RNs.......>>>

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