PEF leaders spend two days meeting with SUNY Upstate members
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Nearly 200 nurses at SUNY Upstate University Hospital took advantage of the opportunity to personally meet with PEF leaders and key staff visiting the worksite in late January.
PEF President Wayne Spence led a group of several elected leaders and key staff, such as PEF Director of Contract Administration Renee Delgado and Assistant Director of Organizing Dan Carpenter, who spent January 25 and 26 at the Syracuse hospital to ensure members on every shift and at the hospital’s satellite facility would have a chance to speak with them.
Spence wanted to hear directly from the members about their working conditions, after hearing about issues related to understaffing and other serious issues from their representatives at a meeting of the PEF Executive Board December 1.
After the board meeting, he immediately began a swift succession of actions to address those issues and keep nurses at Upstate informed. Spence began by creating a billboard campaign to alert the public. When management heard the billboards would be erected, it requested a meeting with Spence. Meanwhile, he met with the Executive Board members who raised the issue, and then included them in a December 21 meeting with the governor’s Office of Employee Relations, and SUNY and Upstate administration officials.
Following the December 21 meeting, Spence emailed the nurses to inform them about the agreements that were reached and that PEF would put the billboard campaign on hold to see if sufficient improvements would be made in the coming weeks and months. He also told the nurses he would spend two days in January at the hospital to meet with them.
Among the many concerns Spence heard from the nurses during his two days at Upstate are understaffing, poor recruitment and retention of nurses, too much overtime, sending nurses to work in departments with specialties for which they have not been trained, and lack of time for lunch or other mid-shift meal, among others.
Spence explained to the nurses how essential it is for them to fill out and submit both the state Labor Department form and the PEF Protest of Assignment form whenever they are required to work overtime or extra shifts for which they have not volunteered.
“I know our nurses may be tired and harried, but making the effort to complete and submit these forms to the state Labor Department and to PEF gives us the evidence we need to show the extent of the understaffing and mandatory overtime problems,” Spence said. “This is something the nurses can do to help us help them, and it is critically important.”
PEF learned the nurses sometimes feel it is better to volunteer to work extra shifts when asked to do so a few days in advance, rather than not volunteer and risk being mandated at the last minute to work the additional shift. Even though they resent the pressure to put in more hours on the job, volunteering at least allows them some chance to pick when they will do it and to plan ahead for child care or other necessary accommodations.
“Our nurses are often between a rock and a hard place when they are ordered to work overtime or to work in medical units for which they have not been specially trained,” Spence said, “because they are bound by the legal requirements of their nursing license. A nurse who is ordered to stay on the job past the end of his or her shift might be charged with patient abandonment if they leave and no other nurse is there to replace them. But if they need to pick up their child from daycare of from school, they have a duty to do that, too. Such conflicting responsibilities can create a great deal of stress day in and day out.”
Nurses said they appreciated the time and effort Spence and the others from PEF spent to speak with them individually about their issues during the two-day visit in late January.
Afterward, Spence again emailed the nurses, assuring them, “We will continue to address the concerns that were expressed last week by PEF members in both the Downtown and Community hospital buildings.”