Peconic Bay Medical Center nurses and healthcare workers — who stated they are the “lowest-paid” in their profession on Long Island — have voted to authorize a strike.
Dozens of medical professionals gathered outside the Riverhead hospital Thursday afternoon to demand that Northwell Health agree to fairer contracts, specifically wage increases, improved benefits and more sustainable staffing levels to help recruit and retain nurses.
“We’re over $10,000 beneath the rest of the hospitals in the Northwell Health system,” said Christopher Honor, local bargaining unit president. “It’s not all about the money, we’re not asking to be the highest paid, [but] we are the lowest paid and we’re looking to bridge that gap.”
Mr. Honor, who is also a registered nurse in PBMC’s cardiac catheterization lab and a board director of the New York State Nurses Association, said the union represents more than 400 healthcare professionals at Peconic, including pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, imaging specialists and others.
Over 99% of the healthcare workers and nurses who participated voted to approve the strike if the negotiating board determines it is necessary. If the work stoppage is initiated, the 400 employees “are all out,” Mr. Honor said.
“I want to make it clear, we don’t want to strike — we don’t want that for our community and our patients,” Mr. Honor said. “We’re not asking for anything unreasonable, but we’ve been driven to this point of taking a strike vote because we are just looking to be respected and understood about what we all do at this fine hospital.”
Prior to the strike vote, Mr. Honor said an assessment was conducted for PBMC where all members identified pay parity and safe staffing as two items they want to see on the agenda for negotiations.
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.
He added the wage negotiations are currently happening, but that there haven’t been “fair responses” from leadership about safe staffing, which to Mr. Honor “drives safe patient care.”
The next step following the strike vote is to continue to negotiate in “good faith,” but prepare to commence the actual strike if the demands are not met, Mr. Honor said. If a walkout is deemed necessary, the union will issue a strike notice with the required, federally-mandated 10-day waiting period, Mr. Honor said.
In an emailed statement, Northwell Health 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.”
“Our goal is to reach an agreement that continues to provide our valued nurses and allied professionals with competitive compensation and benefits and ensures a safe, supportive working environment that enables them to provide exceptional care that our patients and community have come to trust,” the Northwell Health statement said.
Representatives from organizations such as the Long Island Federation of Labor and Long Island Jobs for Justice came out to show support for the Peconic nurses’ strike vote and bring attention to their cause.
“I imagine it’s probably not irony that we are standing at 1 Heroes Way in front of heroes right now,” Ani Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs for Justice, said to the PBMC workers. “But I have to say that is not how your employer is treating you — if anything, they are treating you as disposable.”
Marie Boyle, a director-at-large for the New York State Nurses Association, works as a semi-retired nurse at Northwell’s South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore where she said the starting salary is approximately $12,000 more that at PBMC and the top of the scale is roughly $32,000 more.
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.
Kathy Dillon, a registered nurse who has worked for PBMC for four years and the Northwell Health System for more than 23 years, said the hospital’s leadership has only been offering its healthcare employees “empty promises.”
She added that despite being the lowest paid healthcare workers on the island, it is evident through its multitude of proposed projects and advertising campaigns that “Northwell has the money.”
“We are fed up, we are tired,” Ms. Dillon said to the crowd. “They invest in so many things and we just please ask that they invest in us.”
Peconic Bay healthcare workers joined in solidarity with employees of another Northwell facility — Long Island Jewish hospital Valley Stream — who held their own strike vote at the same time Thursday. Nurses at LIJ are demanding staffing ratios in their contracts to improve patient care and to improve hiring and retention.
“We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached and look forward to positive and productive ongoing negotiations,” Northwell Health said in its statement.