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EAST HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — Nurses at some of the largest hospitals in the tri-state area, and in fact, the world, have authorized a strike that could happen as early as January.

The nurses’ union says that the labor action may be necessary because hospitals have stretched nurses’ ranks so thin that it’s endangering patients’ health and safety. The hospitals say that care won’t be compromised if there is a strike, and that they’re negotiating in good faith to prevent one from happening. 

Melissa Perleoni is a registered nurse at Mount Sinai and is one of 14,000 nurses citywide who have voted “yes” to strike.

“This is the only time the hospital will listen,” she said, while outside of Mount Sinai.

Perleoni said that there is a variety of issues that prompted her and 99% of her fellow nurses to authorize a strike. One major issue, she said, “They want to cut our health care benefits. Can you believe that?” 

Her union, the New York State Nurses Association, or NYSNA, says that in more than three dozen ways, the hospitals their members work are trying to cut back their health care benefits. 

In addition, NYSNA says that the nurse-to-patient ratio has become dangerously imbalanced. Perleoni said that she experiences that in person, daily. 

“We’re really short staffed,” she said. “It’s insane.”

She said that over the course of the three years of the pandemic, many nurses have burned out and have left the profession without being replaced. Her union, NYSNA, backed that up. It’s calling for more hiring of nurses, as well as better pay and work conditions for its members.

“The only way we’re going to retain nurses,” said Nancy Hagans, the president of NYSNA, and a registered nurse, “is by having proper patient-nurse ratios, having proper medical coverage, excellent medical coverage and good wages.” 

The strike authorization vote is complete at some of the largest hospitals in our region and indeed the world: BronxCare, Montefiore, Mount Sinai, NewYork-Presbyterian, and Richmond University Medical Center. 

At those medical institutions, nearly 99% of nurses have authorized a strike, according to NYSNA figures. At  four other hospitals — Interfaith Medical Center/One Brooklyn Health; Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center/One Brooklyn Health; The Brooklyn Hospital Center; and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center — nurses are still voting. However, at this point, 14,000 of the 17,000 member nurses have already said they’ll walk if they need to. 

Their union contract runs out at 11:59 and 59 seconds on the night of Dec. 31. After that, the nurses are required to give ten days’ notice before walking out. In other words, as soon as Jan. 11, thousands of nurses could hit the picket line. 

Some of the patients who spoke with PIX11 News outside of Mount Sinai said that they were sympathetic with the nurses’ cause, even though it may affect patients’ care. 

“It’s their money, it’s their paycheck,” said one woman, who declined to give her name. “They have families to take care of.”

Some other patients, while generally supportive of the nurses, also expressed some concern.

“I’d be nervous,” another woman said.

Jerome Keitt was about to go into the hospital for an appointment.

“People have different occupations that can be hectic, and this is one of them,” he said, “but they still have an obligation to assist people in their time of need in a health crisis.”

For their part, the two largest hospital systems released statements. 

Mount Sinai’s vice president of media and public affairs, Lucia Lee, said:

“We have been actively engaged with our nurses during this contract negotiation and have shared regular updates here: Please feel free to use any information on this site in your reporting. 

Our goal is to reach an agreement that continues to provide our valued nurses with competitive compensation and benefits and ensures a safe, supportive working environment that enables them to provide exceptional care to all our patients across the diverse communities we serve.”

New York-Presbyterian issued this statement:

“We respect and value all of our nurses, who play a central role in delivering the exceptional care that NewYork-Presbyterian is known for. We remain hopeful that union leadership shares our dedication to reaching a fair and reasonable contract agreement, and we will continue to bargain in good faith.  

While a strike vote does not necessarily mean a strike will occur, and we remain committed to reaching an agreement. We must always prioritize our patients and their care, and we have made the necessary preparations to ensure that our patients at NYP Columbia University Irving Medical Center, NYP Allen Hospital, and NYP Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital continue to receive the same high-quality care, without interruption, in keeping with our fundamental obligation to the communities we serve.”