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Nurses’ solidarity sends loud message

New York Teacher
UFT Vice President Anne Goldman (standing)meets recently with nurses from NYU Langone-Brooklyn.

Earlier this year, the Federation of Nurses/UFT achieved on-time contracts at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and NYU Langone-Brooklyn Hospital that protected the nurses’ hard-fought contractual benefits, improved working conditions and included regular pay increases.

The contract ratified in March by Federation of Nurses/UFT members at NYU Langone-Brooklyn, formerly Lutheran Hospital, contained no givebacks, a 4 percent pay increase over two years and an improved staffing ratio of 5 to 1 on medical-surgical units — the only hospital in Brooklyn with that patient-to-nurse ratio. The Brooklyn hospital, which forged a partnership with NYU Langone in 2014, is the only one of the NYU Langone hospitals where nurses are unionized — and not coincidentally, the only NYU Langone hospital where nurses do not pay for health benefits and are covered by a defined-benefit pension.

The contract ratified on Jan. 30 for Federation of Nurses/UFT members at the Visiting Nurse Service contained no givebacks, a 3.75 percent pay increase over two years and additional contributions to the employee health plan.

Reflecting on these successes, we can see the significance of educating members and engaging them in our union work.

The solidarity of the nurses in the union provides the basis for our bargaining success. Our union message is loud and clear: Each member is a significant part of our voice. By uniting each new hire with senior staff as well as unifying the many specialized nursing care units, we achieve mutual goals at the bargaining table.

As a union, we have many discussions where new nurses can articulate their perspectives and goals. Senior staff members play an essential role in helping new hires navigate their careers and achieve competence and successful patient care outcomes. Our union begins laying the foundation of unity at new hires’ orientation, welcoming them as a valuable asset to our union workforce. And throughout each nurse’s professional career, the union is a meaningful part of the development of best practices and workplace initiatives about patient care, and it provides support as each nurse develops an individual work style.

The challenge for our union is to provide the rationale that will enable each member to understand and value the strength of collective bargaining in achieving goals and improving our ability to give each patient individualized care based on their unique needs. We must communicate with all our members, respect their input, provide knowledge and establish a strategic and thoughtful approach to achieving our goals.

Appropriate staffing is essential to effectively respond to individual patient care needs, as is the skill mix of support staff, technology, equipment, institutional support and a care plan. Today, in our union role as patient advocates, we affirm the need to respect patients as individuals at a vulnerable time in their lives.

Health care employer chains want fast turnaround, and their data is based on the number of patients with a particular disease. The goal of these chains is to treat as many patients as possible in a specific time period.

As a union, we advocate for nurses to have the time to educate patients about their individual health care challenges, thereby helping them to achieve optimum health. Our patients do not all learn the same way. For instance, the 65-year-old who is an English language learner and has sustained an abdominal injury and is diabetic may require more time to understand how to maintain her health than a 22-year-old with a college education and a degree in biology. Both patients deserve the opportunity to understand their health care needs — knowledge, after all, is the prerequisite for them to avoid further complications and a readmission to the hospital.

As a union, we at the Federation of Nurses/UFT have learned to be prepared to support all our bargaining demands and to understand the value of these bargaining demands to the important work we do. The strength of our union has facilitated our success in our contract negotiations and in our work. The value, respect for and dignity of each patient we serve are important to us as union nurses and drive us as we continue to strive for excellence in our work.

Only if we remain strong and united can our voice continue to be heard in the fight for exceptional health care.

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