NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — At Montefiore New Rochelle, nurses have walked off the job demanding better working conditions.

The hospital says the union is putting patients at risk by striking during the pandemic.

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As CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reports, more than 200 Montefiore New Rochelle nurses are on strike, many making noise outside the hospital while inside, they say, safety is an issue.

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“We need them to listen, and there’s no other way for them to listen,” said registered nurse Kathy Santoiemma.

After nearly two years of contract negotiations, the New York State Nurses Association warned the hospital of a two day strike. But the union says a bargaining session Monday ended with no agreement.

“How do you call us heroes and empty out the hospital to prepare for us going on strike rather than negotiate it with us and give us what we’re asking for?” one nurse said.

The biggest ask is more staff, especially in a pandemic.

“We don’t have enough staffing so we can’t take adequate care of the patients,” said registered nurse Melissa Ricketts.

“Everything we’re asking for leads back to staffing, because we cannot retain staff. Because our benefits, and our salaries, and of course staffing,” Santoiemma said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

“It’s not safe and I need to watch all the heartbeats under my care and that’s why I’m here,” said ICU nurse Cecilia Fucuy.

“The hardest decision, we are really doing this for our patients,” said Barbara Tarricone, Exec. Committee for Montefiore New Rochelle for NYSNA.

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The hospital held a news conference Monday outlining its offerings to the union. Here is their full statement:

Today, Montefiore New Rochelle is taking steps to protect the community because NYSNA leadership has chosen to go on strike during the latest surge of COVID-19.

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In negotiations over the past 18-months we offered NYSNA:

  • Over 7% in wage increases
  • Medical expenses for retired nurses
  • Tuition reimbursement of $7,500 per year
  • Health insurance with no employee contributions
  • Funding for the NYSNA Pension Fund

To most this would seem like a good deal, even in the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic when hospitals and individuals are struggling financially.

NYSNA is striking because they want the power to dictate staffing assignments and hand out plum positions to their friends, while Montefiore believes the decisions on how to treat patients and make these assignments rests not with any one group alone, but with the entire team caring for the patient.

NYSNA is willfully misleading the public by suggesting that Montefiore New Rochelle is unprepared for the latest COVID-19 surge, when the truth is, in compliance with the Governor’s orders, MNR is stocked with 90 days of PPE for its employees. NYSNA is selfishly putting the community at risk and using COVID-19 as a political football.

We choose patients over NYSNA’s politics.

Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital will remain open but will enact contingency plans, including relocating patients to other facilities to ensure their safety.

But a spokesperson didn’t answer CBS2’s questions about staffing.

“What about staffing?” DeAngelis asked.

“It’s answered in the statement,” said hospital spokesperson Marcos Crespo.

“We don’t even know who those people were yesterday. Come out and say everything is great, and that we’re being selfish. It’s hurtful and it’s just nasty and mean,” Santoiemma said.

The rallying nurses got a surprise visit from a patient who gave birth on Thanksgiving. She wanted to give thanks to them with her own plea.

“Give them what they want. They deserve it,” patient Angell Bartee said.

Meanwhile, the hospital is using ad space to let people know it’s open, but before getting inside, visitors will the voices of those on the front line, and picket line.

In the briefing Monday, a hospital spokesperson said it relocated some patients to other facilities to ensure safety.

The nurses will be on strike all day Tuesday and back Wednesday for day two.

The union also sent a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, claiming the hospital is failing to provide nurses with proper protection from COVID-19.

“The New York State Nurses Association’s strike at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital is extremely distressing. We have the utmost respect for nurses, but with Montefiore New Rochelle already on a state ‘watch list’ for severe economic distress, NYSNA leadership’s decision to strike is a grievous action, especially during a second COVID-19 surge. It could push Montefiore New Rochelle over the edge,” said Greater New York Hospital Association president Kenneth E. Raske.

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