Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

The city government has reached a new six-year labor contract with New Haven’s unionized public health nurses, ending a two-year long collective bargaining process.

In a unanimous vote on Jan. 17, the Board of Alders approved the new contract submitted by the Office of Labor Relations on behalf of Mayor Justin Elicker. AFSCME Council 4-467, which represents 45 nurses employed in the city’s public and parochial schools, won key and long-fought victories in the contract.

Renee Hamel, associate director of communications for AFSCME Council 4, told the News that the contract’s most important changes include pay raises in line with those across the state, schedule changes that align with school day hours and the option for workers to maintain or extend their current 10-month employment schedule to 12 months.

“This is a fair contract and we are pleased to be compensated at a rate comparable to other nurses across the state in hopes of getting more nurses to apply and come on board,” Local 1303-467 President Cynthia Harris-Jackson said in a press release. “The city truly heard us and understood the changes we requested as a professional unit.”

The union has long emphasized the essential role that nurses have played in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, including by conducting contact tracing, vaccinating residents at home and in clinics and spreading public awareness about the dangers of COVID-19. AFSCME Council 4, which comprises the state’s municipal unions, published an article on the pandemic-induced stresses that nurses experience, noting that 70 percent of AFSCME-unionized healthcare workers reported experiencing anxiety and burnout. 

In a city press release, Elicker stated that as a parent of children in New Haven public schools, he is grateful for nurses’ dedication to serving the city’s students and public health clinics.

New contract benefits will strengthen the city’s efforts to hire more nurses, according to representatives for the city and union. Municipalities and hospitals across Connecticut currently contend with a statewide shortage of nursing employees, including 27 vacant positions in New Haven’s public health system, due in part to pandemic-related health risks. Yale-New Haven Health currently faces an acute shortage, looking to add hundreds of new employees at its facilities.

The full Board of Alders approved the contract following its approval by the board’s finance committee. Ward 3 Alder Ron Hurt, who serves on the committee, urged the full board to vote in favor of the contract to improve nurses’ labor conditions and improve hiring rates.

“Nursing staff stood by the city during the pandemic and this contract will give them benefits and pay they are due,” Hurt said. “There are currently 27 vacancies for nurses and we all believe that these changes make our contract comparable to other towns and allow for quick hiring of staff to fill the gap.”

The contract’s new pay schedule will give nurses a retroactive 3 percent wage increase for the 2020 fiscal year and a 2.5 percent increase per year for the remainder of the contract, with the exception of the second year where a pay adjustment will take place.

It will also extend the nurses’ yearly employment status from a 10-month to 12-month period, allowing them to work and receive pay during summers when school is not in session.

“As nurses we worked tirelessly 24-hours a day at the beginning of the pandemic,” Harris-Jackson said.  “We rose to the occasion and served New Haven residents to ensure they were well informed about COVID and vaccinations. This contract will allow us to continue doing what we do best – supporting the health needs of our community.”

AFSCME Council 4 represents roughly 15,000 municipal government employees across the state.

Yash Roy contributed reporting.

Corrections, Jan. 18: A previous version of this article misstated the number of actively employed nurses as the total of nursing positions included in the union, which includes 27 currently vacant positions. It also misstated the total number of municipal employees unionized under AFSCME Council 4 and missed specifying that the second contract year will be a pay adjustment period instead of a raise year.

Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.