Montefiore Medical Center improperly threatened to fire nurses if they joined a strike with their New York State Nurses Association colleagues, according to a complaint filed with the federal National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday.
“On or about January 10, 2023, Montefiore Medical Center threatened employees with termination if they joined the NYSNA strike,” the unfair labor practice charge read in full. “The Employer unlawfully threatened retaliation for concerted activity protected under Section 7 of the Act, and has a chilling effect on other bargaining unit members.”
The complaint, reported first by THE CITY, stems from a claim that THE CITY reported about Tuesday, in which seven newly hired nurses, who are dues-paying NYSNA members under a probation period, were allegedly told they could not join their colleagues on the picket line.
The new hires — who are among the 7,000 NYSNA members across Montefiore and Mount Sinai hospitals who have been on strike since Monday morning — were allegedly told they could not strike because of their probationary status, people familiar with the incident said.
Union sources said management later retracted its threat to the new hires, and told them that as union members they would not face retaliation for going on strike.
Federal law protects employees’ right to withhold their labor and, in many cases, their right to keep their jobs upon returning from a strike.
The complaint, filed by the New York State Nurses Association, is the latest in a litany of recent unfair labor practice complaints filed against the hospital network.
In the days leading up to the work stoppage, the union filed several unfair labor practice charges accusing Montefiore of refusing to provide staffing information, prohibiting nurses from wearing pro-union stickers, and interrogating a bargaining unit employee and “creating the impression” that the employee’s activity was under surveillance.
“We are appalled and disgusted that Montefiore management would so blatantly violate the union rights of nurses on their very first days at work. Yesterday, nursing management told a group of newly-hired nurses that they would be terminated if they left the hospital to strike,” NYSNA President and registered nurse Nancy Hagans said in a statement.
“The nurses did not know whether they had a protected right to strike or whether the hospital would have the right to terminate them for union activity. Management’s unlawful threats are a clear violation of federal law and could have a chilling effect on other new RNs who want to exercise their legally-protected right to strike. It’s time for Montefiore to stop fighting frontline nurses and work with us to improve care for our patients.”
Asked about the NLRB complaint, Montefiore spokesperson Joe Solmonese repeated verbatim his statement from the previous day, after THE CITY first reported on the allegation that new nurses had been informed that they were allowed to join their colleagues on the picket line: “This is factually inaccurate. We communicated their legal rights appropriately.”
‘As Long As It Takes’
Nurses at Montefiore and Mount Sinai hospitals are seeking improved staffing standards in New York City’s largest nurse strike in decades. Both hospitals are so understaffed, the nurses say, that they often care for double the safe number of patients at a time putting both nurses and patients at risk.
At Montefiore, one emergency room nurse has cared for as many as 20 patients at a time, while at Mount Sinai, NICU nurses may care for up to 3 to 4 sick newborns at once, according to the union.
Talks between the union and Montefiore have been ongoing since the nurses went on strike on Monday, but Mount Sinai has yet to agree to formally return to the bargaining table even as it began discussing potential staffing changes with the nurses late Tuesday night, according to a union source not authorized to speak publicly.
The hospitals have meanwhile scrambled to staff hospitals during the work stoppage — angering the striking nurses and their allies in the process.
On Monday, THE CITY reported that Montefiore was reassigning licensed practical nurses at its family health clinic to fill in for the striking nurses. Representatives for the union representing the LPN’s, 1199 SEIU, sent Montefiore a cease-and-desist letter on Tuesday saying that the involuntary reassignments were in violation of their collective bargaining agreement, POLITICO reported.
Meanwhile, Mount Sinai was reportedly paying travel nurses $300 an hour to cover NICU shifts – even though staff NICU nurses earn $52 hourly, Gothamist reported.
Close to 100 nurses and supporters rallied on Monday outside of Montefiore’s Moses Campus.
“I don’t want to hear about wages. What I want to hear about is safe patient-to-nurse ratio and enforced language that would help us to care for our patients,” said NYSNA president Nancy Hagans. “Until you can do so, we will be out here for as long as it takes.”
Nurses and supporters held signs calling for improved staffing ratios while booming chants like “patients over profits” and “safe staffing” and circled the block surrounding the hospital. Passing drivers, including those of several ambulances, honked their horns in support of the strikers.
“The institution has said that they need more flexibility from the nurses,” Michelle Gonzalez, an ICU nurse at Moses for the past 12 years, said at the rally, stressing that both nurses and patients deserved better.
“I would like to let you guys know the nurses have become acrobats in this institution,” said Gonzalez. “If we are any more flexible than we are now, we’ll be in gymnastics. I am not a gymnast. I want to be a nurse.”