New York, NY – Nancy Hagans, RN, CCRN, President of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), and recently-named co-president of the National Nurses United (NNU), has brought her strength and powerful leadership to oversee the more than 42,000 nurses in New York State that NYSNA represents.
She has presided over their recent strikes and historic contract victories, finally bringing a measure of justice and change to the working conditions of RNs, the profession a recent Gallup poll found the public believes to be “the most trusted and ethical.”
President Hagans shared with LaborPress details about much of the difficult Labor work she and her union members had to embark upon in order to achieve their goals: how they fought, what they fought for, and how a significant factor in their determination to succeed was their concern over patient care.
LP: Regarding the recent nurses’ strikes, can you provide a summary of which hospitals were involved, how long the strikes lasted at each hospital, the numbers of nurses out on strike at each, and relevant dates?
NH: Last year, NYSNA nurses in New York City started to meet and plan for the largest nurses’ strike in U.S. history. Twelve private-sector hospitals had contracts expiring on Dec. 31 and we started a campaign to bargain on a common platform. Ultimately, 10 hospitals reached a contract settlement before going out on strike. Approximately 7,000 nurses at two hospitals, Mount Sinai and Montefiore Bronx, went on strike for three days — from January 9-11, 2023.
LP: What were the most important issues that needed to be addressed and how were those wins achieved?
NH: We had a shared five-point platform: 1) Improving patient care through safe staffing; 2) Fair wages to recruit and retain nurses; 3) Protecting healthcare and retirement; 4) Listen to the nurses to protect public health; and 5) Uplifting communities with good jobs and responding to community health needs. The key issue for nurses everywhere continues to be safe staffing. The ability to have enough nurses to safely care for patients and enforce safe staffing standards was our shared priority and became the flashpoint in the strike. I believe our solidarity and united action—from the largest academic medical centers in Manhattan to the smallest safety-net hospitals in the outer boroughs — delivered our wins.
LP: How do you feel your leadership contributed to the ultimate victories for your members?
NH: I have been a NYSNA member and a nurse for nearly 30 years. I was first elected to NYSNA’s board of directors in 2015, served as treasurer beginning in 2019, and was elected president in June of 2021. I have spent my entire career at Maimonides, a safety-net facility in Brooklyn. My members know me and know that I am here to fight for all nurses—private or public sector, New York City or Upstate—all 42,000 members are important and have a voice in our union. I was deeply involved in the campaign from the beginning, and I made sure through daily press briefings and working with our political and community allies that the nurses’ message reached the public and we gained their support before and during the strike.
LP: What in your background, both personally and professionally, do you think gave you the strengths you needed to lead so successfully?
NH: As a native of Haiti who moved to Staten Island as a preteen, I had to learn from an early age to use my voice to speak out against injustices I saw and my family experienced. When I began working as a critical care nurse at Maimonides, I had to put my voice to the test. I challenged a discriminatory practice at the hospital that tracked ICU nurses of color into the night shift. I soon began helping my coworkers with their grievances and became NYSNA’s local bargaining unit president at the hospital. I have been active in NYSNA’s social justice and civil rights committee for years. I believe that fighting for health equity and what is right benefits all nurses and patients and our communities.
LP: Public opinion polls (Gallup) have shown that RNs are the most trusted and ethical profession. Do you think that had any bearing in legislative wins such as the safe staffing law and the strike contract wins?
NH: I would like to think so! I think that legislators and New Yorkers understand that when nurses demand change, it is because it is necessary for our patients and our profession. Our demands are based on evidence. Our goal is to improve patient care and make this challenging profession more sustainable.
LP: How did you get the much-needed message across to the public about the dire need for change in the nursing profession?
NH: It was the members supporting one another to speak out and tell their stories that made a difference. Our patients see nurses running all day trying their best to care for too many patients at once—they know many of us are overworked and underappreciated. For people who do not have the experience of being a patient or having a loved one in the hospital, we relied on nurses bravely telling their stories at rallies, on social media and in the press to get our message across.
LP: What were the biggest wins for your members in the strike victories? What else would you like to see change?
NH: Our biggest wins were improving staffing standards and enforcement in all 12 New York City private-sector hospitals. At Montefiore and Mount Sinai, NYSNA nurses won expedited arbitration and financial penalties for employers who understaff—a national precedent. We also protected our healthcare benefits and NYSNA benefit fund which threatened by major benefit cuts and cost increases. We won the best wage increases we have ever won in NYC—7, 6, and 5% increases over the three years of the contract. Now we are focused on strong contract enforcement. Our healthcare system needs to put patients over profits, so there is still a lot that needs to change in healthcare that our contract wins only skim the surface of.
LP: What do you see as future goals for the union, and what are you currently focusing on?
NH: Since we settled these contracts, we have also won great contracts on Long Island, in the North Country, in Buffalo, and most recently for the 8,000 NYC public sector nurses at NYC Health+Hospitals! We just won a historic contract with pay parity and safe staffing for these hardworking nurses, and I could not be prouder. Their contract represents the largest pay increase in NYC public sector nurse history—over 37% in 5 ½ years. We are building on our contract wins around the state, and we plan to keep on winning. We are monitoring and enforcing the safe staffing standards that are required in the state staffing law. We are defending nursing scope of practice and advocating for more educational support for nurses to help recruit and retain the next generation of nurses. We continue to advocate for universal healthcare and other national priorities along with National Nurses United, including legislation for safe staffing ratios and to protect against workplace violence, which is endemic in healthcare.
LP: How has the NYSNA and NNU affiliation boosted and advanced visibility for your workers, and how do you see your role as the 4th president of the NNU Council of Presidents?
NH: I am so excited our members voted to affiliate with NNU and that I now serve as an NNU co-president. The problems in healthcare extend beyond New York, and I think having a coordinated approach and national voice with the largest and most powerful and growing union for registered nurses is what we need to rise to the challenge. I’m excited to be serving as the Grand Marshall for this year’s New York City Labor Day parade. Our siblings from NNU will be joining us to celebrate a year of victories and joining the entire labor movement to say that when we organize, we rise!