NEW ROCHELLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- A hospital in Westchester County is facing a nurses strike with COVID-19 cases expected to surge during the holiday season.
The strike at Montefiore New Rochelle began at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Hospital management says nurses are putting the community at risk, but the nurses say the conditions at the hospital -- where they have been working without a contract for nearly two years -- are unsafe and untenable.
The New York State Nurses Association, the union representing the nurses, is demanding the hospital hire more nurses and improve safe staffing requirements.
"This place was the epicenter, the beginning of COVID," union President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said. "We have nurses who've died. We have people who've died, who've worked here for lack of PPE, for improper care, improper staffing and training. That's what this strike is about."
The strike comes at a crucial time when the need for hospital beds is increasing in New Rochelle, with the seven-day rolling average of COVID cases now at 6.19%.
Hospital officials say they have been negotiating with the nurses for 18 months, offering pay raises of more than 7%, tuition reimbursement, and funding for their union pension.
Marcos Crespo, the hospital's senior vice president of community affairs, took no questions at a press conference Monday. He simply read a statement detailing what the hospital would do if nurses walk off the job on the two-day strike.
"Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital will remain open but will enact contingency plans, including relocating patients to other facilities to ensure their safety," he said.
Nurses and hospital administrators returned to the bargaining table Monday, but sources say they made little progress.
"They want the power to dictate staffing assignments and hand out plum positions to their friends," Crespo said. "While Montefiore believes the decisions on how to treat patients and make these assignments rest not with any one group alone, but with the entire team caring for the patient."
The war of words didn't seem to be helping.
"Who do you believe?" nurse Kathy Santoiemma said. "A bunch of suits who never came out of their offices during COVID? Or do you believe us, who were there day and night, who prayed with our patients, who took care of our patients day and night?"
The strike is expected to take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
Separately, nurses at Albany Medical Center Hospital began a 24-hour strike Tuesday over their deadlocked contract negotiations as well as complaints of inadequate coronavirus protocols. The Times Union reports that about 100 nurses were on the picket line shortly after 7 a.m.
"This is a painful day for Albany Med," hospital spokesperson Matthew Markham said. "While some of our nurses have chosen to abandon their patients, even as coronavirus hospitalizations continue reaching record levels in the Capital Region, Albany Med will not abandon its mission."
He said temporary nurses were at the hospital to replace those who are striking.
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