Rochester General Hospital nurses to vote on strike

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It’s been more than two months since the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals went on a two-day strike. Now, another strike could be on the horizon.

The group has a vote planned for Wednesday, as negotiations continue to stall over settling the first nurses’ contract at Rochester General Hospital.

The union, which has more than 900 members, will vote on whether they will go on strike again.

Hospital system leaders said in a statement that they are “absolutely committed to patient safety,” and call their care excellent. They said they’re continuously recruiting full-time nurses, and have hired 217 in 2023.

The union says that’s not enough; and says they’re worried there’s too much turnover over the years. Members say they want less travel nurses, and more staff-nurses. They also want staffing rules put in writing, and enforced.

Gillian Kingsley, RUNAP secretary and a labor and delivery nurse at Rochester General, said staffing looks different for each unit. For example, medical-surgical nurses can take on as many as 10 patients at a time, while ER nurses can take on as many as 20 patients at a time.

“Nurses go into the profession because they want to give good care, they want to give very good care,” said Kingsley. “They want to talk to their patients, explain what’s going on, what we’re concerned about, what we’re looking at, what this means for the patient. And if you are only able to focus on the task, not really being able to give a thorough explanation to the family, or the patient, that doesn’t feel good.”

Hospital leaders hope the nurse vacancy rate will drop from 12% to 5% in the next week. But will that be enough for the union, whose leaders say a lot of positions go to travel nurses?

Dr. Paul F. Clark, professor of labor and employment relations at Penn State University, explains why too many out-of-town nurses is a concern for unions.

“These nurses are extremely expensive, and nurse unions will often make the point that if the hospital would just put that money into hiring more nurses, that would ease the stress along the nurses that are there,” said Clark. “Sure, they are interested in greater pay, greater benefits, but the one common theme we always see is that the issues they want to improve are things like staffing issues.”

The vote is next Wednesday. News10NBC asked Rochester Regional Health leaders if they plan on going to the bargaining table ahead of that. They did not immediately respond.

Rochester Regional did not make a hospital leader available for an on-camera interview Friday.