Union representing Rochester Regional Health nurses votes to authorize strike

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UPDATE: Rochester Regional Health released a statement on Friday after the union representing its nurses and allied professionals voted to authorize a the strike. State lawmakers of the Rochester Area State Delegation also released a statement.

Here is the full statement from RRH:

“Leadership from the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals (RUNAP) publicly communicated Thursday that they have voted to authorize a strike.

We are very disappointed RUNAP has authorized a strike, particularly given Rochester General Hospital’s (RGH) strong commitment and actions to address the challenges nurses are facing while providing them with competitive pay and benefits. We even initiated a request to have a Federal Mediator join our negotiations going forward and two Federal Mediators joined us at our bargaining session on July 13. A Federal Mediator also joined our bargaining session on July 19. RGH does not want a strike and we believe nothing we have proposed or haven’t proposed in our negotiations with RUNAP warrants a strike.

Now that a strike authorization vote has passed, by law, the union can only strike after giving RGH 10 calendar days’ notice. We continue to hope a strike does not take place but, if it does, RGH is fully prepared and equipped to continue serving our patients and the community. The care, safety and comfort of our patients will continue to be our top priority.

RGH remains committed to bargaining in good faith. Currently, we have two bargaining sessions scheduled and will work to schedule additional dates with the union.

It’s important to remember that it is very common for labor negotiations over any collective bargaining agreement, and especially a first contract, to take a significant amount of time. According to a 2022 analysis of data by Bloomberg Law, it can take an average of 465 days, or 15 months, for a union and an employer to reach and ratify a first labor contract. In our case, we have been bargaining for nine months.

Our nurses are exceptional professionals who put patient care first and are essential to our ability to provide the highest quality care. We are grateful for their commitment to patients and to RGH, and we hope they will not be asked or compelled to walk out on the patients and families who depend on them to provide high-quality, compassionate care.”

Here is the statement from the Rochester Area State Delegation:

Last night, nurses at Rochester Regional Health voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. Nurses are the backbone of successful patient care, both in a hospital setting and in our broader healthcare landscape. Countless members of our community depend on Rochester Regional Health—and RUNAP nurses—to receive the quality care they need, and we all stand to benefit from a fair union contract.

The Greater Rochester Majority Delegation will always stand on the side of equitable treatment and fairness towards workers. It is our hope that all parties will work diligently in efforts to negotiate a fair contract, especially resolving high-priority issues around patient safety and wages, while taking every necessary action to avoid a strike.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The union representing close to 900 nurses and allied professionals at Rochester Regional Health says its members are ready to walk off the job.

Thursday, union members authorized a strike, 472-50. When they’ll strike remains to be determined. The union must give management 10-day notice.

Ahead of the vote, Phoebe Sheehan, a registered nurse at Rochester General Hospital, said going on strike was not their first choice.

“We want to avoid a strike is the number one goal. The nurses are willing to walk, but we want to continue bargaining,” she said.

“Our hope is that the hospital will continue to work with us to get up their contract,” Sheehan explained. “We’ve been at the bargaining table since October, and we’ve made it very clear to the administration that safe staffing is our number one priority.”

The North East Nurses Association is backing the nurses claims of safe staff ratios, and the effects on quality patient care.

“Nurses in the emergency department are frequently backed up, forced to take care of 20 patients at a time. In the inpatient units sometimes, they’re up to 10 patients at a time which is just literally not safe,” said Nate Miller, organizer of the North East Nurses Association.

Nurses explain why this vote is so important to them.

“It gives all of us nurses a voice at the hospital a way to stand up for safe patient staffing, and anything else,” said nurse Savanah Vasile.

“I really want to have a good contract — a good, fair contract and I want it to be fair for everyone, but especially for the patients of course, yeah,” explained nurse Lisa Coulombe.

Rochester Regional sent News10NBC the following statement:

“It is very disappointing that RUNAP seems determined to threaten a strike – despite the progress we are making at the bargaining table – and Rochester General Hospital’s (RGH) efforts to do everything it can to reach an agreement, including multiple wage proposals without seeing substantive movement from the union, safe staffing proposals and more.

A strike could be bad for everyone: our nurses, our patients, our community, and RGH. 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. RGH does not want a strike and will continue to bargain in good faith to avoid one. We believe contract issues are best settled at the bargaining table and we remain committed to transparent and collaborative negotiations to reach a fair contract. 

Strikes are tools that unions use when negotiations are stuck or when management isn’t focused on reaching a deal.  Neither of those are the case here. 

For background, both parties have participated in 14 bargaining sessions from October 12, 2022, through July 19, 2023, and Federal Mediators were present at the two most recent sessions. Throughout the negotiations, RGH has responded to and discussed RUNAP’s proposals at the bargaining table, reaching tentative agreements on a variety of topics. We hope that RUNAP will continue negotiations on the open issues on the table instead of conducting a strike.

Even the threat of a strike causes the health system to spend significant sums of money to prepare for the possibility of a strike and ensure we can continue to treat our patients and serve the Rochester community.  Those funds would be better spent on our nurses, other employees and serving the community.”