Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.
Over 400 nurses and healthcare workers at Peconic Bay Medical Center plan to walk out of the hospital beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 21 if an agreement with Northwell Health is not reached for fairer contracts.
Members of the New York State Nurses Association at both Peconic and LIJ Valley Stream gave their hospital administrators the federally-mandated 10-day strike notice on Friday.
This means nearly 700 employees at both medical centers on Long Island could strike in the next two weeks.
“We have our eye on the prize — a fair contract with safe staffing that will allow us to retain healthcare workers and provide excellent patient care,” said Christopher Honor, local bargaining unit president and a registered nurse at Peconic, said in a statement. “We see striking as a last resort, but I’m confident because my colleagues are confident that we must do what it takes because we are committed to doing what’s best for our patients — if that means going on strike, we are ready.”
Over 99% of the healthcare workers and nurses voted in favor of a strike on Feb. 1, if the negotiating board determined it is necessary. An assessment was made prior to the vote where union members identified pay parity and safe staffing as two items they want to see on the agenda for negotiations.
Mr. Honor said in a phone interview on Friday that union members did meet with administration at the bargaining table that morning and there were some items tentatively agreed upon by both parties.
However, when it came to wages and safe staffing, progress had not been made with those specific agenda items, Mr. Honor said.
“The employer came to the table, they didn’t have any response to any staffing guidelines, which is what we were waiting for,” Mr. Honor said. “When they didn’t have any response to that, that’s what triggered us to give the strike notice.”
Safe staffing refers to the number of patients assigned to a specific nurse, and when a nurse is given more patients than he or she can effectively care for, that puts the patients at risk. According to the New York Campaign for Patient Safety, nurses are too often being “forced” take on nine, 10 or even more patients at once.
At Peconic, Mr. Honor said the patient to nurse ratio depends on the floor a healthcare worker is assigned to, but union members are attempting to negotiate the language used in their contract to ensure there is a “minimum patient to nurse ratio.”
Additionally, NYSNA is demanding better wages for Peconic healthcare workers, who are the lowest paid in the Northwell Heath system, Mr. Honor said.
The low starting salary at Peconic negatively impacts recruitment and retainment at the facility, which has led to high turnover and understaffing, union representatives said.
In a recent advertising campaign launched by NYSNA, the union stated that Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling made $7.7 million in 2021 in salary, bonus and perks, which is “more than 95 times the average salary of a healthcare worker at Peconic Bay Medical Center.”
The Long Island Federation of Labor and 22 labor unions delivered a letter addressed to Mr. Dowling earlier in the week expressing solidarity with the 700 nurses and healthcare workers of both Long Island hospitals.
In the letter, they called on Northwell Health to “do the right thing” and finalize a fair contract.
“Hospitals must prioritize patients over profits,” said the Long Island Federation of Labor in its letter to Mr. Dowling. “If executives can be paid millions of dollars in salaries, bonuses, and perks, nurses and healthcare professionals should be paid a wage that ensures retention and stability for the workforce allowing them to remain focused on safe patient care.”
NYSNA healthcare professionals will continue to negotiate “in good faith” until the Feb. 21 deadline and hope to reach a fair agreement before that date to avert the strike.
If progress is made in the negotiations, Mr. Honor said the union has the ability to change the deadline date.
“We’ve been trying to do this for several months now and we haven’t been able to make any progress as far as safe staffing,” Mr. Honor said. “We want the community to know that we are negotiating so that their loved ones are being cared for, with a proper number of patients that the nurse is taking care of.”
Northwell Health previously said Peconic Bay Medical Center has met with NYSNA for 10 sessions since starting negotiations in September 2023 and plans to continue to “bargain in good faith to reach a fair successor contract to their bargaining agreements that expired on Dec. 31, 2023.”
In an email statement sent on Friday, Northwell Health said they are “disappointed” in NYSNA’s decision to issue a strike notice at LIJ Valley Stream Hospital and Peconic Bay Medical Center, but are “optimistic that an agreement can be reached.”
“We look forward to ongoing positive and productive negotiations with NYSNA,” said Northwell Health in its statement. “In the event of a strike, patient care remains our highest priority. We will continue to serve our patients and our community by providing uninterrupted world-class care.”