July 31, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
Midwives at Elmhurst Hospital and dozens of their supporters picketed outside the facility Wednesday to demand better pay and working conditions while also sounding the alarm on patient safety.
The midwives, who help patients throughout the childbirth process at the hospital, were joined by some of their former patients, medical professionals and elected officials in front of the 79-01 Broadway building at around 7 a.m. The protest lasted around two hours, organizers said.
Assembly Members Catalina Cruz and Jessica González-Rojas as well as presumptive Council Members Tiffany Cabán and Shekar Krishnan were among those standing in solidarity with the midwives.
Picketers marched in front of the hospital carrying signs reading “respect nurses and our patients,” and “every patient deserves quality care.” One woman could be seen clutching her newborn child in her baby carrier.
The childbirth helpers said they have had one raise in the last 10 years and are forced to work overtime because the hospital is understaffed.
“We are drowning—seven of us doing the work of 15,” said Keeley McNamara, a midwife at the hospital. “We feel profoundly disrespected,” she said.
The event was organized by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), whose leaders say they have been trying to secure a unionized contract for the seven full-time midwives at the hospital for the last two years. The NYSNA said the midwives have been working without a contract during this period.
The midwives said they worked long hours throughout the pandemic treating many mothers and babies who were infected with COVID-19 – yet they did not receive hazard pay. Elmhurst Hospital was considered the epicenter of the city’s fights against COVID-19 during the spring of 2020.
“I have personally done 16 to 24 hours [overtime] each week since the beginning of the pandemic and for less pay than my base salary,” said Margo Re, the chief midwife at Elmhurst Hospital.
She called on the operators of the hospital – The Mount Sinai Health System – to immediately enter into negotiations with them to hammer out a fair contract.
“It has reached a point where we cannot keep our good midwives or attract new midwives with the workload such as it is,” Re said. “I cannot take a day off without burdening my fellow midwives.”
Re said the heavy workload may also put patients at risk if not addressed quickly.
González-Rojas said that the midwives are working under “unacceptable” conditions and she was standing in solidarity with them in fighting for “pay equity.”
“They [midwives] are literally saving and supporting lives, so I demand that Mount Sinai do what’s right and negotiate in good faith,” González-Rojas said.
Cruz echoed those sentiments and said that the midwives are serving a community that is making the leaders of Mount Sinai “pretty rich right now.”
“We’re not asking for much. We’re simply asking that Mount Sinai give these midwives the dignity, the respect—and the pay— they deserve.”
A spokesperson for The Mount Sinai Health System told several news outlets that the organization is looking to resolve the issue soon.
“Since before the pandemic, we have been in constant communication with the union [NYSNA] and we are hopeful that we will reach a fair resolution in the near future,” the spokesperson said.
While lives were lost in our city the midwives at Elmhurst Hospital were supporting the births of lives here in Queens. @MountSinaiNYC must come to the table to negotiate for fair wages to retain these health champions. @nynurses @QNS_Together pic.twitter.com/HZYhjgAyUu
— Jessica González-Rojas (@votejgr) July 28, 2021