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Unionized nurses at Rochester General Hospital authorize a five-day strike

RGH nurses on strike
Max Schulte
Rochester General Hospital nurses held a two-day strike in early August; union members voted on Wednesday to hold a five-day strike beginning Oct. 23 if agreement cannot be reached on a new contract.

Unionized nurses at Rochester General have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike later this month if an agreement cannot be reached on their first contract.

According to the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals (RUNAP), 91% of the nurses who cast ballots on Wednesday voted in favor of implementing a five-day strike. 

The union said that on Thursday morning, it will be serving hospital management a ten-day notice of their intent to strike for five days beginning on October 23. 

“We are hopeful that a strike can be avoided and are prepared to negotiate throughout the ten-day period,” said RUNAP President Carmen Camelio, who is also a medical intensive care nurse. “Ultimately, our goal is to reach an agreement that will allow both parties to focus on rebuilding our hospital to a standard of care our patients deserve.” 

The union noted that October 12 marks one year since negotiations between the union and RGH began.

Union Secretary Gillian Kingsley, a labor and delivery nurse, issued a statement claiming that management “dragged their feet in reaching a fair agreement. Today, we are sending a clear message that we will not accept a contract that fails to keep our patients safe.” 

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Phoebe Sheehan is a critical care nurse and a member of the union’s bargaining committee. 

The union, which was formed last year and is trying to reach its first contract, had a two-day strike in early August, and Sheehan said that they decided this time they needed to extend that walkout. 

“A two-day strike definitely moved us forward in the contract, and we think that five days is a bit more pressure to maybe just finish it,” said Sheehan. 

Sheehan said that staffing continues to be a big issue in trying to achieve their first contract. 

“How many nurses should be on a unit for each number of patients on each unit,” said Sheehan. “That might differ from like an ICU to a step-down, to a med (surgical) unit. Management wants to not have a strong enforcement mechanism within the contract, which is where we really differ.”

A statement released Thursday by Rochester Regional Health said it was “extremely disappointed” that the union (RUNAP) voted to authorize a strike. Management feels that Rochester General has worked to address concerns the union has raised related to wages, benefit, staffing and other topics.

The health system said that the two-day strike in August cost RGH more than $6 million to get the patient care staff it needed to keep hospital operations running with minimal interruption, and the statement noted a five-day strike would cost even more, money it can no longer invest back into the hospital operation and programs to serve the community.

Officials said that RGH remains committed to bargaining in good faith and there is a bargaining session scheduled for next week.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.