ITHACA, NY – With their hearing before the National Labor Relations Board coming to a close, nurses from Cayuga Medical Center took to the median near Clinton Street to raise awareness for their cause.

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A number of nurses at Cayuga Medical Center (CMC) have been pushing to unionize with one of their goals being to improve what they characterize as unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios. They claim that the the hospital has been using union-busting tactics to undermine the effort.

Cayuga Medical Center maintains that the claims leveled by these nurses are untrue and that the hospital is both a very positive working environment and is the safest hospital in the region.

Scott Marsland, a nurse-practitioner who has worked at CMC for 15 years, said that as of December, 175 of the hospitals approximately 350 nurses had signed cards supporting the union idea.

“We did that in spite of the fact that the hospital engaged in coercive union-busting tactics from last May, and that we have hemorrhaged 40 nurses in the last year. So the fact that we have 50 percent of nurses signed on cards in spite of those tactics, in spite of the loss of all those nurses tells a very different story from what the hospital is trying to tell.”

Marsland said that he’s feeling confident about the hearing will result in positive change. He explained that the National Labor Relations Board decisions are enforced in whole or in part in 98 percent of the cases that they bring to hearing.

“The NLRB doesn’t take on cases they don’t think have validity,” Marsland said. “They’re very well organized, they know the story thoroughly. And the truth is on our side.”

CMC nurses and supporters attempt to raise awareness for their cause. (Mike Smith / The Ithaca Voice)

“We’ve been trying to work with management for years about getting more staffing, more nurses, so that we can provide better care for our patients. They have meetings, they come back and say, ‘It’s not in the budget, it’s not in the budget,’” explained Cheryl Durkee, a 30-year health care veteran. “We just feel like we’re not being listened to.”

Durkee said that with a union, the nurses would be able to put into a contract guidelines for safe staffing and a plan for when safe staffing isn’t available.

“Right now, when we don’t have safe staffing, there’s no plan. We just hope we can take good care of people even though we don’t have enough nurses. It’s hard the patients first of all, its hard on the nurses. We want to give good care,” she said.

“I’m tired of leaving my shift every night thinking a good shift is that nobody died. I want to say a good shift is, ‘God, I took good care of my patients tonight.’ Be able to go home feeling good, you know? That’s why I got into it 30 years ago and that’s why I’m still in it,” Durkee added.

Durkee also pointed out that these issues aren’t just limited to Ithaca. A group of nurses will be holding a rally in Washington D.C. on May 12th in support of two bills which are moving through Congress that would help alleviate the issue of poor nurse to patient ratios.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.