NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Less than a week after nurses ended strikes at two privately owned hospitals in New York City, nurses at the city's 11 public hospitals are rallying in an effort to jumpstart their own contract talks.
The demonstration and march are happening at NYC H+H corporate headquarters in Lower Manhattan.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) represents 9,000 H+H hospitals and mayoral nurses across the city, and the union's current contract expires on March 2.
(Mayoral nurses keep first responders like police and firefighters healthy and on the job, while also providing direct care health services to New Yorkers receiving assistance from various city agencies.)
They're getting support from some elected officials.
"You were there in the darkest hours. You were there when people though New York City wasn't going to survive," NYC Council Member Christopher Marte said.
Public sector nurses are not legally allowed to strike, so they staged Wednesday's rally to urge the city to come to the bargaining table.
The union says the talks should have started weeks ago but have not.
Among these nurses' top concerns is equal pay compared to private-sector nurses.
With the new contracts negotiated with private-sector hospitals guaranteeing an approximately 19% wage increase over the next three years, public-sector nurses want to make sure they see a similar pay hike.
"It is a big gap. It's a $14,000 dollar gap," said Woodhull Hospital RN Dr. Judith Cutchin. "What we want to do, I'm not looking to line my pockets. We are looking for incentives so we can get nurses into the building, so they don't run to the private sector."
They say that if they don't get the same pay, the public sector will lose even more nurses in a profession that has become chronically understaffed in this city.
"We are so backed up at work and we are drained at the end of the shift," Elmhurst Hospital staff nurse Delano Hugg said.
Nurses from Elmhurst Hospital say their contracts with the city do spell out nurse-to-patient ratios, but they aren't enforced.
"Things need to change, and it starts today," Hugg said.
Health + Hospitals responded, saying in part that it's looking forward to negotiating a new contract with NYSNA when the current one expires in March and welcomes new opportunities to strengthen its partnership with the union.
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