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Irish in push for hospital union

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

In what organizers are calling the largest push of its kind in New York, a group of Irish and Irish-American nurses are leading an effort for union recognition by hundreds of registered staff at a northern Bronx hospital.

The nurses, who all work at the Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center, last week presented hospital Chief Executive Officer Gary Horan with a letter demanding that management recognize the 1199 Union of registered nurses, union representatives said.

The hospital employs 500 registered nurses and a large majority of those have decided to allow 1199 to represent their collective bargaining rights, according to Ben Weinthal, a union organizer.

Weinthal said nurses at Our Lady of Mercy are trying to improve staffing levels at the hospital as a way of bettering service. The nurses would be aiming for a patient-to-nurse system similar to that established in other private city hospitals. Depending on the size of the hospital and bed capacity, a labor agreement would set staff levels to allow for sufficient care, Weinthal said. At New York’s St. Barnabas Hospital, for example, that ratio is one nurse for every eight patients, he said.

"Basically the nurses have been organizing since August 1998 and their chief purpose is to improve staffing levels and secure their professional self respect," Weinthal said.

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For Kerry-born nurse Margaret Horan, it is really a patient care issue.

"I’ve been there for a long time and it has definitely dropped," said the Irish-born, Bronx-educated nurse.

The nurses had tried five years ago to get representation, but their efforts were halted, Horan said. "There are a lot of issues that we should have more say in," she said.

A spokesperson for the hospital’s management said they would not comment on the unionization efforts until they had been notified by a national labor council.

The largest union in the health care industry, 1199 has 150,000 members who work in private hospitals and nursing homes throughout New York State. Our Lady of Mercy serves Bronx neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and also Yonkers and parts of Westchester.

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