NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York State Nurses Association is holding a "Day of Action" amid contract negotiations for its members at city-run hospitals.
The union is demanding better pay and increased staffing for its 9,000 union members across 11 locations.
Their current contract expired Thursday.
NYC Health + Hospitals previously released a statement about the negotiations saying, "NYC Health + Hospitals is grateful for the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice our highly-skilled nurses make every day. We look forward to negotiating a new contract with NYSNA when the current one expires in March and welcome new opportunities to strengthen our partnership with NYSNA and the nurses who are so essential to our mission and our system's success."
The union will hold candlelight vigils at several major city hospitals at night in another public display of urgency.
It comes just weeks after 7,000 nurses at private city hospitals went on strike, with similar demands.
"They have better working conditions," Lincoln Hospital RN Sonia Lawrence said. "They just negotiated a great contract. And with a $19,500 gap, that's enough incentives for nurses to leave."
Nurses at Lincoln Hospital say many have already left, either for 25% higher pay in the private sector or simply because they're burned out, forcing those still left to spend less time with their patients.
"We don't have enough of us," said Anna, a radiology nurse at Lincoln Hospital. "So even though we want to give the best care that we can, sometimes I find myself not explaining, taking time to do everything correctly for the patients, and they're losing out because we're short staffed."
Public sector nurses are not legally allowed to strike because they are municipal workers. Any strike would be illegal and come with penalties, and even possible arrest for union leaders.
They say they have other tools they can use but are not ruling out the possibility of an illegal strike.
"So, we're back at the table next week," NYSNA Executive Director Patricia Kane said. "Hopefully, we don't have to escalate, but these nurses certainly are ready to do whatever it takes to get what they need."
The city is also negotiating other labor contracts right now, but Health + Hospitals says it is looking forward to that next negotiation.
Two bargaining sessions are scheduled in the next two weeks, and they've had one, but again, their contract expired on Thursday.
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