The call of the wild at the Capitol

nurses rally at the capitol

Photo by El-Wise Noisette

It was rowdy.

Nurses from PEF, NYSUT and CWA whooped it up in the convention center in support of legislation for improved conditions for patients and health care workers at a rally moved to the Empire State Plaza Convention Center because of continuous rain Tuesday. They slammed together the clappers provided by PEF, making enough noise like a torrential downpour hitting the roof. Their whistles sounded like those peepers(tree frogs) that come out in bawdy choruses at night. The cheerful whooping of the nurses was as fresh as spring.

And just about the time I was thinking of these emulated nature sounds as a type of “call of the wild,” Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Monticello, a nurse herself, stepped up to the podium and said, “Nurses are a wild bunch!” She pledged ongoing support for nurses at work.

Dressed in sunshine yellow T-shirts that said “Save NY Nurses,” the healthcare workers filled the mezzanine in the convention center on all three sides surrounding the podium. They cheered and shouted as legislators stepped up and pledged support for their bills.  When asked: “What do we want,” they answered “Safe staffing.” “When do we want it?”  “YESTERDAY!” a few shouted out.

Visits to lawmakers filled the day’s itinerary  for school and hospital nurses, occupational and respiratory therapists, visiting nurses, and nursing home nurses — to name just some of the health care professions represented. They seek: safe nurse-patient staffing ratios; a school nurse in every building in the big five city school districts in New York; safe patient handling (using training and mechanized lifts); and no mandatory overtime for visiting nurses.

Senator George Maziarz, R-Lockport, said proper equipment will help keep workers from being injured on the job. Their safety is a priority, and it will save money as well. Patients will be safer.

“This is a bill where everybody wins. This is the priority bill for me!” he said as the clappers came out loudly.

“Health care workers are more likely to suffer back injuries than construction workers,” said Assemblyman Rory Lancman, D-Queens. He promised to get that bill to the governor’s desk this year.

“I don’t know how you have the patience, strength and emotional constitution to do what you do,” he said, thanking nurses for their care.

Assemblyman Hakeen Jeffries, D-Brooklyn, said he supports strong staffing and safe patient handling. As the son of  PEF social worker, he said union-negotiated health insurance helped his brother, born with serious heart problems; union salary helped his parents buy their home; and borrowing against their union pensions allowed his parents to borrow to send him to college. Unions, he said, “have always stood up for me just like you’ve (nurses) stood up for so many families.”

“How many thousands upon thousands of people’s voices are you carrying to legislators?” asked Mike Mulgrew, president of UFT. Safe staffing levels should not even be an issue, he said because “you’re lobbying to give better care to people in need.” Mulgrew questioned “Can you imagine having to ask for that? There should be no argument from across the table.”

Hospitals are fighting to make more money, and nurses are fighting for better patient care.

Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council, said unions are working together to improve conditions for staff and patients. Some bills have taken a long time to move. The “anarchy and bureaucracy is by design. It’s to diffuse the union voices.”

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