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Capital Region Nurses Vote To Strike

  Story updated 6/24/2015

Hundreds of registered nurses at two Capital Region hospitals have voted to authorize a strike.
More than 700 nurses at Ellis Medicine in Schenectady and Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville announced a vote to strike Friday.

The New York State Nurses Association, the union representing the workers, says while the nurses are currently negotiating with both hospitals, management "hasn't been bargaining in good faith."

In a statement, NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said while the nurses are committed to providing patient care, "there are simply not enough nurses and caregivers to do the job effectively."

The vote to authorize a strike comes after a similar move by the union in New York City. More than 18,000 nurses at 14 private hospitals threatened to strike, demanding higher staffing levels. A date for that strike has not yet been set.

NYSNA has picketed outside Nathan Littauer, as well as outside Ellis Medicine and the Bellevue Women's center. The union held demonstrations for staffing throughout New York City and Westchester on a day of action on April 16th.

Kellie Gauthier, a registered nurse for 15 years, serving three of them at Ellis, says there are not enough nurses on the floor to take care of patients during high-traffic times. She said the staffing issues affect the emergency department on nights and weekends.

"For the most part we have nurses but if somebody, a trauma comes in or a heart attack or a stroke, there isn't the backup of nurses to take care of the patients when the nurse is busy with the one."

Gauthier she attended demonstrations outside Ellis in September and late December. She said nurses are taking a stand across New York.

"Nurses support nurses. So whether it be up at Nathan Littauer, nurses in the city, we all have the main common goal. So we're always talking about what's going on, how can we improve it, how can we keep the community informed..."

Negotiations at both hospitals have stretched on for a year-and-a-half.

Although news of the strike threat broke over the weekend, on Wednesday Ellis Medicine emailed a statement to WAMC claiming that the hospital had not received "official notice" of such a vote, and said it would be inappropriate to comment.

Spokesman Matt Van Pelt said,  "We remain committed to working with NYSNA, as we always have, to reach an agreement and, in fact, have an additional negotiating session already scheduled for the coming weeks.”

Nathan Littauer declared an impasse last fall. The hospital says it has been willing to meet with the union since then. The next negotiation session with the union is scheduled next month.

In a statement emailed exclusively to WAMC, the hospital said it has made arrangements with a national company to provide replacement workers if there were a strike.

Stephanie Fishel, LIttauer's Vice President of Patient Care and Chief Nursing Officer said, "It would be a benefit to the patients and professional satisfaction of the nurses if the union fostered a collaborative nursing culture."

The hospital's president and CEO, Laurence Kelly, accused the union of using "rhetoric pulled from a downstate PR playbook" and attempting to mislead patients.

Under agreement, the union must provide Nathan Littauer Hospital 10-days notice of a strike.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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