Nurses at St. Charles Hospital have voted to authorize a potential strike, the nurses’ union said Friday.
Of the 287 nurses at the Port Jefferson hospital, 97.5% voted, and of those, 99.6% voted in favor of a measure allowing the union to deliver a 10-day notice of a strike, the New York State Nurses Association said. The nurses have been working without a contract since March 31.
In contract negotiations, NYSNA is advocating for a faster arbitration process when patient-to-nurse ratios agreed upon by the union and management are exceeded, as well as salary increases, the union said.
The voting took place Tuesday through Thursday. The nurses' previous contract calls for a 6-1 patient-to-nurse ratio in medical/surgical units and 2-1 in critical care. Nurses have said the hospital sometimes exceeds those standards by 50%.
St. Charles is one of many hospitals nationwide where nurses contend in union negotiations that they are facing unsafe conditions such as high patient-to-nurse ratios.
Kim Bowman, a surgical recovery room nurse at St. Charles and a member of the union's executive committee at the hospital, said Friday morning that a decision about whether to call for a strike was pending while negotiations continued.
The hospital has suffered attrition among new and experienced nurses since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, and at times it has gone "far above" safe numbers of patients assigned to each nurse, the 38-year-old Shoreham resident said. If that continues, she said, "It could potentially mean a poor patient outcome."
Bowman said that when she advises family and friends to go to St. Charles, "I want to feel confident that...they're going to receive top notch care, and I know that the hospital wants the same thing."
She said as talks continue, "We’re hopeful that we’ll see some movement" on staffing and other issues. On Tuesday, Rob Barone, a critical care nurse and president of NYSNA’s executive committee at St. Charles, said the union is seeking wage increases of 9%, 8% and 7% over three years.
Rockville Centre-based Catholic Health declined to comment Friday.
In a statement on Tuesday, Catholic Health said that in 10 bargaining sessions with NYSNA, St. Charles “has made significant offers on wages, staffing and other important topics.” The hospital “remains committed to meeting with NYSNA, continuing to bargain in good faith and achieving a fair contract,” Catholic Health said.
Barone said in a statement Friday, “We will continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve our paramount goal of providing quality care to those in our community by obtaining a fair contract that ensures safe staffing and enables us to retain and recruit nurses. We don’t take striking lightly, but our members are united and prepared to strike if St. Charles gives us no other option.”
NYSNA, the state's largest nurses' union, has more than 42,000 members. It also represents nurses at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, where nurses signed a new contract in April with pay increases of 6%, 6% and 5% over three years, and at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown, where the union's contract will expire July 31.
Its members at Northwell Health’s South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore voted in February to approve a new contract that raised their salaries 19% over three years and expedited arbitration of staffing disputes, three days before a strike was scheduled to start. Nurses at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside voted in January to join NYSNA.
NYSNA nurses conducted a three-day strike in January at Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. The strike ended after the nurses won strict staffing ratios and a 19% wage increase over three years.