by Arthur Z. Schwartz

After months of negotiations, more than 7,000 nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Bronx went on strike on Jan. 9 for safe staffing and to improve patient care. The key sticking point in negotiations was safe staffing to ensure there are enough nurses at the bedside to safely care for patients. A wage package had already been agreed to before the strike.

After three days on the picket line, where energy was high and the world was watching in support, nurses were able to reach groundbreaking tentative agreements that increase staffing levels and enforcement, increase salaries by approximately 19% with extra steps and pay over the three-year contract, protected healthcare benefits, and improve pandemic health and safety and community benefits. Nurses clapped back at the bosses’ attacks on them from the strike line, making sure their voices were heard loud and clear. Local, national, and international news covered the strike including ABC Channel 7, ABC Nightline, and more.

According to the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the deal includes “wall-to-wall safe staffing ratios for all inpatient units with firm enforcement so that there will always be enough nurses at the bedside to provide safe patient care, not just on paper.” “NYSNA nurses have done the impossible, saving lives night and day, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and now we’ve again shown that nothing is impossible for nurse heroes,” said Nancy Hagans, RN, the president of the union. “Through our unity and by putting it all on the line, we won enforceable safe staffing ratios at both Montefiore and Mount Sinai where nurses went on strike for patient care. Today, we can return to work with our heads held high, knowing that our victory means safer care for our patients and more sustainable jobs for our profession.”

“New staffing ratios take effect immediately in a historic breakthrough for hospitals that refused to consider ratios that nurses have been demanding for decades,” the union said. “At Montefiore, nurses will also return to work this morning after winning new safe staffing ratios in the Emergency Department, with new staffing language and financial penalties for failing to comply with safe staffing levels in all units. Nurses also won community health improvements and nurse-student partnerships to recruit local Bronx nurses to stay as union nurses at Montefiore for the long run.”

The nurses’ fight for safe staffing measures and other changes drew national attention to Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore’s business practices, including their lavish compensation of executives. While Montefiore and Mount Sinai are technically nonprofits, they frequently act like large corporations—with massive investments on Wall Street and overseas, and providers sidelined from essential care decisionmaking.  These nonprofit hospitals also boast huge executive salaries. Mount Sinai CEO Kenneth Davis made $5.6 million in 2019, the last year for which complete tax records are available. Montefiore CEO Philip Ozuah made $7.4 million in 2020.

Mount Sinai disclosed that 15 executives made more than $1 million annually in 2019; Montefiore disclosed ten in 2020, with all making more than $1.5 million.

The same drive for corporate profit, with incredible salaries for executives, has led to hospital consolidation. Understaffing is one side of the problem; the nurses have pushed the envelope on this issue. Consolidation and loss of beds is the other side. The strike has opened a lot of eyes about the possibility of winning. Their win is a win for us all.

Arthur Schwartz is President of Advocates for Justice, a public interest law foundation which has sued to stop hospital closures and service cuts.