Rochester General Hospital nurses strike enters day two

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Friday is day two of the nurses strike at Rochester General Hospital. The strike began at 7 a.m. Thursday and will run through Saturday at 7 a.m.

The union representing close to 900 nurses and allied professionals gave Rochester Regional Health until Wednesday night to negotiate a contract. The two groups couldn’t reach an agreement, so nurses began their two-day strike.

Representatives from the union, called RUNAP (Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals), say they want a contract with a wage increase over the next five years. They say competitive wages would help retain experienced staff members. Hospital leaders say they need more time to negotiate a contract and wanted to avoid a strike.

RRH says the strike at its hospital won’t impact patient care because it has temporarily contracted hundreds of nurses to help. All planned appointments and procedures will continue and the emergency department will remain open 24/7.

Hundreds of people picketed on Thursday around Rochester General Hospital for the nurses strike. Nurses walked down down Portland Avenue carrying signs demanding more competitive pay.

“We’re eager to get back to the negotiating table,” says RUNAP Chief Negotiator Nela Hadzic. “We’re waiting on hospital management to send additional bargaining dates. Come Saturday, we’ll be ready to get back to negotiations.”

RRH released a statement after the strike began, saying that it’s “deeply disappointed” in the union’s decision to go on strike. The statement says several RUNAP-represented nurses have decided not to join the strike and continue their work. Here’s the full statement:

“We are deeply disappointed that the leadership of the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals (RUNAP) has taken their membership out on strike.

RGH did not want this strike and we believe nothing we have proposed or haven’t proposed in our negotiations with RUNAP warranted this strike. RUNAP’s leadership is conducting a strike when RGH’s proposals at the bargaining table have sought to ensure our units are appropriately staffed, continue providing competitive pay and benefits and ensure we are able to provide our patients with the best possible care. In fact, at our recent bargaining sessions, RGH moved substantially on numerous issues, including wages and staffing, which the union has indicated are two of their most important issues.

A number of RUNAP-represented nurses have decided not to join the strike and are on the job for their scheduled shifts. Our nurses are essential to our ability to provide the highest quality care, and we are grateful for their commitment to their patients and to RGH.

We have also contracted with a nationally respected agency to hire temporary replacement nurses who have been carefully screened, selected and trained on RGH’s systems and protocols. All replacement nurses meet, or exceed, licensing and credentialing requirements. We are confident in their clinical expertise and ability to work alongside our nurse leadership, physicians and other staff to deliver outstanding patient care.

RGH has already spent millions of non-refundable dollars securing expert, safe patient care during this RUNAP strike. Patients with scheduled procedures, treatment and exams should plan to visit RGH at their scheduled appointment and should expect to receive the excellent care they have come to expect from RGH. In addition, any patient requiring use of RGH’s Emergency Department should continue to do so. It’s also important to note that none of RRH’s other hospitals or locations are affected in any way by the strike at RGH.

We recently recommended the involvement of Federal Mediators who joined us at our bargaining sessions on July 13, July 19, August 1 and August 2 to try to avert the strike and reach an agreement. And, in many of our recent proposals, we adopted much of the union’s language.

It’s also important to remember that, since January 2020, we had already increased nurse base wages by an average of 19%. If the union had accepted our most recent wage proposal of an average 7.8% increase for the first year of the contract, that would’ve equated to a more than 26% average increase in a little over three-and-a-half years. On the other hand, RUNAP’s most recent proposals would make RGH’s nurses among the highest paid in the entire country.

If RGH were to agree to everything RUNAP wanted around wages, staffing and benefits, it would cost Rochester Regional Health (RRH) more than $111 million for just the first year of the contract. Given that RRH is already projecting a $150 million loss this year, and anticipates further losses into 2024, that would be irresponsible.

RRH provides health care services to approximately half the population of the Rochester area. In addition, in 2022 alone, RRH provided more than $265 million in uncompensated care to our community. If all of RUNAP’s proposals were agreed to, the cost could require us to reduce our community programs and charitable support across the region.

We look forward to resuming negotiations and remain committed to transparent and collaborative negotiations to reach a fair agreement.”

Nearly half of the nurses represented by the Union decided to cross the picket line and work as normal on Thursday. Traveling nurses assigned to RGH were also on hand along with hundreds of nurses who work for contractors — brought in to cover for the striking nurses.  A spokeswoman for the hospital says it remained open for business, as it will, for the duration of the strike and scheduled procedures and appointments continued as normal. 

The main sticking points between the union and RGH come down to money and staffing levels.  The striking nurses want higher wages and their supervisor, tells News10NBC, she is willing to pay.

“Over the last two years, they’ve gotten over 19% in wage increase. Is that enough? No. That’s why we were at the table continuing to negotiate with them. We offered them a 6 percent increase, and that was rejected in the proposal,” says Shari McDonald, the Chief Nursing Officer at RGH. 

When it comes to staffing levels, there is no doubt there is a nursing shortage. But McDonald says it’s not just a Rochester problem.

“A misconception that there is that the union has been saying is we don’t have enough nurses. We don’t. But we have compensated for that with travel nurses,” she says. “There is a national shortage. All the professional affiliations have made statements to that fact. We are competing against everyone else. We want to meet those needs, and we’re meeting those with travel nurses at this time and continuing to recruit, it is our priority.”

RGH says if it were to agree to everything RUNAP wants around wages, staffing, and benefits, it would cost Rochester Regional Health (RRH) more than $111 million during just the first year of the contract. Given that RRH is already projecting a $150 million loss this year, it would be irresponsible.

RRH also added that it provides health care services to approximately half the population of the Rochester area. In 2022 alone, it provided more than $265 million in uncompensated care. If all of RUNAP’s proposals were agreed to, RRH says the cost could require it to reduce community programs and charitable support.  

City Councilmember Michael Patterson, who walked the picket line with RGH nurses, represents the people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding RGH and benefit from some of those community programs.

“RGH does a lot. A lot of hospital systems do a lot — that’s not the question,” he tells News10NBC, “The question is what are you going to do to accomplish your core mission, which is patient safety? Right now you’re a D-rated institution, that should be your goal. These people are telling you we need some changes here. Meet with them, talk to them, work on the solution.”

Hospital officials say they need more time to negotiate a contract. Shari McDonald, chief nursing officer at Rochester General Hospital, says patient care at the hospital is continuing as normal and she supports nurses who continue to work during the strike.

Carmen Camelio, president of the union, says staffing has been better but care is not improving.

“We don’t have the consistency of a base, core of staff nurses. Not just staff nurses but experienced staff nurses,” he said.

Nurse Stacey Judson says the hospital needs to work on retaining experienced staff members and keeping them from going to the competition.

“We’re fighting for each other. We’re fighting for safety. We’re fighting for community,” she said.

Rochester Regional Health released a statement soon after the strike began. The statement says that, since January 2020, the hospital has increased nurses’ base wages by an average of 19%. Both hospital officials and the union plan on returning to the bargaining table in the coming days.

Monroe County Legislator Delvecchio Hoffman released a statement saying she is standing in solidarity with RGH nurses who are going on strike. Here is her statement:

“I stand in solidarity with the nurses fighting for quality care and call on management to engage in good faith negotiations with these essential workers. I support their right to strike and deeply honor the labor rights workers fought and died for in this country. The right of workers to organize is fundamental to ensuring a safe, quality workplace and hospital for us all.”

How we got here:

Union members authorized a strike with 472-50 vote on July 20, giving hospital leaders the required notice of at least 10 days. The strike went on when union members and RRH leadership couldn’t reach an agreement by Wednesday night.

The nurses unionized last year, saying they deserve better pay and need more staff to care for patients. For almost nine months, the nurses have been trying to reach a first-ever contract with RRH.

RRH says its forecasting a $150 million loss this year and the strike which will worsen with the strike. News10NBC spoke with Shari McDonald, chief nursing officer at Rochester General Hospital, on Thursday morning about how the hospital is preparing for the strike.

“We are here for our community, our doors are open, our services are ongoing, and I am confident that the care will be provided without any clinical compromise,” she said.

News10NBC also spoke with Gillian Kingsley, a labor and delivery unit nurse, about the strike.

“Its really unfortunate that its come to this point,” she said. “We were really hoping yesterday that management would be willing to negotiate with us. We planned to stay into the night. And that didn’t happen.”

RRH says its temporary nurses who will help during the strike are well trained and familiar with the hospital’s protocols. In a letter, the healthcare system said:

RGH will maintain regular business hours and has contracted a nationally respected agency to hire hundreds of replacement nurses who have been carefully screened, selected, and trained on RGH’s systems and protocols. All replacement nurses meet or exceed licensing and credentialing requirements.”


News10NBC TODAY speaks with RGH nurse at 6:30:

News10NBC TODAY live at 6:

News10NBC TODAY live at 5:30: