When Nurses Need Pay Parity Who Is Helping?

A prominent New York newspaper recently headlined that Dr. Philip Ozuah, the current CEO of the Montefiore Health System, a not-for-profit hospital organization serving some of the poorest communities in the country, was paid over $13 million dollars in 2018; that year he earned $2.8 million in salary, a bonus of $1.6 million and a $9 million payout for early retirement. However, he did not retire, he merely transitioned from a role as President to CEO of the Montefiore system, the umbrella organization for the organization’s 11 hospitals and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Dr. Ozuah replaced Dr. Steven Safer who retired in 2018 with an equally lucrative $8 million-dollar payout, including an early retirement package of $3.4 million.

This is the same hospital system where, on January 10, 2019, nurses employed within the organization issued a strike notice over salaries and staffing as the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) continued contract negotiations. In opposing salary increases for nurses, the New York City Hospital Alliance, the bargaining group representing Montefiore during the negotiations, publicly contended that increased costs would result in potential layoffs.

It is hard to imagine that the same cost-saving considerations prevailed in the negotiations which determined the earnings to be taken by Drs. Ozuah and Safer. Rather, the fact that such exorbitant payouts are acceptable within this hospital system calls into question any justification the organization could offer to explain why nurse practitioners are not compensated for missed lunch hours and overtime hours. And why the organization will not comply with appropriate nurse-staffing ratios requiring more nurses to be hired to provide for safe patient care. Most of the workers affected by these disparities in pay and working conditions are women.   

For example, nurse practitioners are required to work through assigned lunchtime and work considerable amounts of overtime without compensation. While nurse practitioners are covered employees by the collective bargaining agreement between the hospital system and NYSNA, that contract specifically exempts nurse practitioners from earning overtime.  The result is that these crucial workers are knowingly exploited while the leaders within this very same system can take millions in earnings, a disparity impossible to justify.

In addition, many units are inadequately staffed because the organization will not hire an appropriate number of nurses to provide safe patient care to an ever-increasing patient population.  This disproportionate nurse to patient ratio results in inadequate patient care and impossible working conditions for the nurses assigned to the affected units.

The above-described disparities between workers and leaders are not unique to this hospital system and, unfortunately, it is playing out in many other workplaces throughout America today. According to a study by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, in 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took home 50 percent of all income. That is the highest percentage in the last 100 years. The top 1 percent took home 20 percent of income. By 2015, America’s top 10 percent averaged more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent.  These disparities do not develop in a vacuum.  The corporate greed that makes it acceptable for a CEO within the Montefiore Hospital System to earn millions of dollars annually while that same system will not hire an adequate number of nurses to provide care nor pay nurse practitioners for hours worked is, in part, responsible for these stark income disparities.

In sum, the rich are getting richer faster while workers are watching their piece of the pie shrink.  As a result, economic mobility is worsening for the American worker, especially for working women.  Unless and until the American worker is willing to unite and confront the evident greed within the American workplace these forces will continue to operate unchecked. The economy is simply not working for all Americans and by pretending otherwise the American worker is complicit in their own exploitation.

For more information or to consult with an experienced NYC employment law attorney, please contact Colleen M. Meenan at Meenan & Associates, LLC.

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