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It’s also exacerbated fears that the union is losing its cachet in Albany at a time when nurses are being praised as heroes after facing the onslaught of the coronavirus in New York, an early national epicenter of Covid-19. The union lost its pandemic push to improve hospital staffing ratios after the state said in August the request was unattainable. And the group spent close to $200,000 on three failed lawsuits — against two hospitals and the state — amid the pandemic that were dismissed for legal flaws.

“They’re eating their own,” a Cuomo administration official told POLITICO, requesting anonymity to speak freely. “They went from being major players to bit players because their leadership does one thing and their membership does the other.”

In an interview with POLITICO, union President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said the union was more united than ever, and the complaints within the group were the natural byproduct of an evolving mission.

“Our organization right now is very different than it was a year ago,” she said. “We’re beloved.”

The rift has been percolating for at least two years, but it came to the fore in December, when former Executive Director Jill Furillo was forced out of her post after securing safe-staffing ratios at the city’s public hospital system — a core agenda item for nurses. Furillo had won national recognition for her work in gaining favorable contracts and helped steer California’s Legislature to establish the nation’s first patient-to-nurse staffing ratios. But members who spoke to POLITICO said she frequently clashed with Sheridan-Gonzalez over the union’s approach to lawmakers.

Furillo was replaced by Sheridan-Gonzalez’s ally, Patricia Kane.

Sheridan-Gonzalez has overseen a leftward shift in the union as the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America has attempted to build a stronghold there. State officials that work closely with the union as well as nine members, staffers and union leaders who spoke to POLITICO say the new approach is diluting NYSNA’s ability to advocate for its members.

“It’s been a year from hell, as a staffer,” one person said.

Sheridan-Gonzalez, who worked at Montefiore Medical Center for about 30 years as a registered nurse, is credited with overhauling NYSNA in 2011 to begin politically aligning it with left-wing policies like minimum nurse-patient ratios and a call for universal health care. She then took over as president in 2013, an elected role. About 2,500 to 4,000 NYSNA members vote in officer elections in any given year, according to the most recent records and interviews with members.

With the growing popularity of DSA’s agenda in New York City, a dozen individuals said Sheridan-Gonzalez, who had earned a reputation as a reformer against cronyism and corruption, was pushing that agenda within the union.

Individuals interviewed by POLITICO who have worked with Sheridan-Gonzalez said she is attempting to flip union leadership posts to DSA-affiliated members, according to several people familiar with the situation.

The ideological push has meant a more militant approach toward politicians the union doesn’t consider progressive, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, despite their reliance on Albany support for passing laws that will benefit members.

“[The union’s] job is to work with all lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to deliver on the agenda for the members. NYSNA has a really good way of being able to do that work,” said one NYSNA staffer. “The DSA does not deal with their politics that way.”

Sheridan-Gonzalez dismissed the allegation, saying the union endorses politicians who support health care for all, increased access to inpatient mental health services and keeping health care facilities like Mount Vernon Hospital open, among other issues.

“Safe staffing belongs to NYSNA,” she said. “It doesn’t belong to any other organization. NYSNA, safe staffing is like one word.”

State officials say the approach has been short-sighted and has been worsened by growing internal dysfunction which makes it harder for the union to grow its membership and secure better working conditions, especially amid the pandemic.

Two high-profile leaders within the union also left their roles around the time Furillo exited, prompting concerns that the union had lost some influence in Albany.

Tara Martin, state political director, and Karen Jarrett, downstate political director, were tasked with running the union’s political strategy and courting politicians in Albany to support legislation that helped nurses and health care workers. Martin declined to comment and Jarrett did not return a request for comment.

“The political team is one of the only places where women of color are in charge,” a NYSNA staffer said, referring to Martin and Jarrett who are Black. “Leadership remains all white and getting whiter, there seems to be this mass exodus of women of color.”

Under Sheridan-Gonzalez and Kane, “the political team has no direction and clear leadership,” she added.

“Our policy and platform are pretty clear,” Sheridan-Gonzalez said. “It hasn’t changed that much over the years.”

That policy and platform is aligned with the DSA’s politics, but the crossover within the union has alarmed some members and staffers.

The group, which since the rise of Ocasio-Cortez has increasingly dominated electoral politics in New York City, recognized that it needed to “make a concerted effort to expand organizing efforts in sectors dominated by communities not currently represented in DSA,” according to a DSA memo, first reported by POLITICO and issued in 2018.

“New York City nurses are predominantly women of color, a minority in NYC-DSA,” according to a blurb about NYSNA in the memo, co-authored by Marsha Niemeijer, a NYSNA staffer and DSA member. “DSA has described itself as committed to maintaining an active and diverse membership but is primarily composed of middle-class white people.”

Niemeijer did not return requests for comment.

The exits, coupled with culture clashes and a formal complaint lodged with NYSNA and the U.S. Department of Labor, prompted an anonymous group of individuals within the union to air their grievances with NYSNA on a blog called “NYSNA I See You.”

Fifteen NYSNA members, including two board members, signed off on a complaint to federal regulators that accused Sheridan-Gonzalez and Kane of “receiving improper financial benefits in the forms of ‘salaries’, stipends, or other remuneration, which they have arranged for themselves, with zero oversight or accountability.”

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“This conduct is injurious to the organization because it not only misappropriates union funds, unfairly utilizes the resources of the organization, and compromises the judgement of the leadership, but it has also tarnished the reputation of the organization,” according to the eight-page complaint shared with POLITICO.

The Office of Labor-Management Standards at the U.S. Department of Labor declined to comment on the complaint through a spokesperson. Sheridan-Gonzalez denied the accusations and said if the complaint had merit, OLMS would have notified her that it was conducting an investigation, which it has not.

An executive committee within NYSNA — which includes Sheridan-Gonzalez, Kane, First Vice President Anthony Ciampa, Second Vice President Karine Raymond and Secretary Tracey Kavanagh — reviewed the allegations and dismissed them as being “untimely” and showing “insufficient” evidence, according to a written response to the 8-page complaint.

Valerie Burgos-Kneeland, a nurse who is vice president of the bargaining unit at Mount Sinai, said an investigation carried out by the accused was not likely to be very rigorous.

“Self-investigation is not unbiased or thorough and our union members are entitled and deserving of an independent investigation,” she wrote in an email about NYSNA’s dismissal of the complaint, a copy which was shared publicly on the blog.

“I do not see how either Patricia Kane or Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez ever expect themselves to be truly cleared in the eyes of members without an independent investigation,” she continued. “There will always be a dark cloud over their heads and doubts in member’s minds. That is not leadership.”

NYSNA has settled with several other staffers who threatened lawsuits, according to three people familiar with the settlements.

It is also facing pending lawsuits over accusations of racial discrimination and a whistleblower suit that alleged Kane — who ran for the state Assembly representing Staten Island’s North Shore in 2018 — had NYSNA hire her campaign manager to cover unmet compensation, according to two staffers. They requested anonymity to avoid retaliation.

“I’m not aware of any specific lawsuits that have been filed,” Sheridan-Gonzalez said. “Maybe they want a golden parachute to leave.”

When pressed about the whistleblower suit, Sheridan-Gonzalez said “some things are confidential to the organization” and said it was determined to be unjustified.

Terry Alaimo — the Mount Sinai System area director who was fired from her union position in May after sending an email to NYSNA leadership about the nurse who took the infamous “trash bag over PPE” photo at Mount Sinai was published in the New York Post — said she’s planning to sue NYSNA, according to the blog.

“Under advice of counsel at this point, I can’t discuss it,” Alaimo said.

NYSNA also spent more than $200,000 to sue the state health department, Westchester Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center — where Sheridan-Gonzalez organized a no-vote on ratifying the nurses’ contract in a thwarted attempt to lead a strike in 2019 — over alleged inadequate levels of personal protective equipment and policies that harmed frontline workers.

All three of the suits have been thrown out by state and federal judges, who argued that they were beyond judicial review and did not have jurisdiction to implement the workplace protections NYSNA sought.

“We won,” Sheridan-Gonzalez said, noting the lawsuits were a tactic “to get things done” and prompted hospitals and the state health department to meet their demands.

Yet members said they saw it as a publicity stunt and pointed to the union’s growing inefficacy under Sheridan-Gonzalez and Kane, the latter who several people described as lacking the muscle that Furillo had. Sheridan-Gonzalez defended Kane as a “major, major brain in the transformation of NYSNA into a socially responsible organization,” and said that “under her leadership this union has thrived and grown.”

Under Kane’s leadership, NYSNA was given a seat on Covid-19 task forces by the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio; helped shepherd NY A375, a whistleblower bill introduced by NYSNA member Assemblymember Karines Reyes; and became more visible to legislators, said Sheridan-Gonzalez when asked for examples.

Others, however, said NYSNA has not been able to achieve larger legislative goals compared to other unions that represent health care workers like 1199 SEIU and DC37. Some legislators said the union has been difficult to work with under Kane’s leadership.

NYSNA’s seeming decline in influence was illustrated most recently by the state health department’s long-awaited “safe staffing” study, which determined that minimum nurse-to-patient ratios at hospitals and nursing homes were not feasible in New York. Nurses have long pushed for better ratios, arguing proper care requires fewer patients per nurse.

The Cuomo administration report, which was released Aug. 14, determined the state would need to hire 70,000 more nurses and other caregivers at an annual cost of $3.7 to $4.7 billion to reach the ratios nurses were looking for — a cost the state deemed prohibitive in a defeat for the nurses.

“The Department of Health’s shoddy report is a slap in the face to frontline nurses who sacrificed so much during this crisis,” Kane said in a statement at the time. “Safe staffing could have saved lives during the COVID pandemic.”

For the 2020 primary, NYSNA members interviewed politicians in a manner described by three individuals as “humiliating” and “hostile.”

“I left there so angry,” said one veteran lawmaker. “I never felt so disrespected in a room in my whole career.”

The NYSNA convention will take place on Oct. 20, where members can vote on bylaw changes and the organization’s structural modifications, and adopt new rules — an occasion some members fear will further entrench the union’s leftward swing.

“NYSNA has built itself into a fairly powerful political organization,” said one former staffer. “It was — I fear it is no longer.”


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Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York AG Won’t Accept Cuomo’s Proposal for Independent Probe Into Sexual Harassment Claims

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The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Sunday that she has not accepted a statement from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo offering that she and the chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals appoint an attorney to investigate the sexual harassment claims against him from at least two former female members of his administration.

“To clarify, I do not accept the governor’s proposal,” James said in a statement. “The state’s Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral.”

Cuomo’s office released a statement earlier on Sunday asking James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, to jointly appoint an independent lawyer to investigate the harassment allegations from Lindsey Boylan, the former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo, and Charlotte Bennett, another former aide to the governor.

James and DiFiore should jointly select “an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report,” said Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor.

That public report would be exclusively controlled by the attorney conducting the review, Garvey said.

James on Sunday called on Cuomo, a third term Democrat, to issue an executive order putting her exclusively in charge of the probe, saying it would empower her to issue subpoenas, enforceable in court.

“While I have deep respect for Chief Judge DiFiore, I am the duly elected attorney general and it is my responsibility to carry out this task, per Executive Law,” James said in a statement. “The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”

Boylan, a Democrat running for Manhattan borough president, in a post published on the website Medium last week, accused Cuomo of making inappropriate remarks, and allegedly touching and kissing her without consent. She said he would go out of his way to “touch me on my lower back, arms, and legs,” compare her to one of his rumored former girlfriends, and once suggested that they should “play strip poker” on a flight from an event in October 2017.

Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser to Cuomo, accused the governor of sexually harassing her, including asking inappropriate questions.

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“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the New York Times. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Cuomo’s office has denied the allegations from both Boylan and Bennett. However, the Democratic governor released a statement on Sunday acknowledging that some of his interactions with women “may have been insensitive or too personal.”

The statement maintained that Cuomo has “never inappropriately touched anybody” and said the office would cooperate with an investigation.

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” Cuomo said.

“To be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”

James said on Twitter that her office expects “to receive a referral with subpoena power to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, in line with our demands and New York state law. The referral would be made solely to the attorney general’s office.”

“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” James added. “We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”

The White House has called on Cuomo to face an “independent review” over the sexual harassment allegations. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described the allegations as “serious.”

“It was hard to read that story, as a woman,” Psaki said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The 63-year-old governor is facing increasing calls to resign following the sexual harassment allegations, that come at a time when he is facing intense scrutiny over how his state handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Epoch Times)

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Biden administration

Trump bashes Biden for rejoining WHO, Paris Climate Accord

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Former President Donald Trump slammed President Joe Biden Sunday for rejoining the World Health Organization and Paris Climate accord — and overpaying to do so.

“It is so sad,” Trump said about the US rejoining both organizations during remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference — after he pulled out during his term in the White House.

“They really are puppets for China,” he said of the WHO as the crowd booed.

“They called and they wanted us to stay in,” Trump said. “I said, ‘How much are we paying?’ ‘Approximately $500 million.’ ‘How much is China paying — a much larger, in terms of population, country?’ ‘Sir, they’re paying $39 million.’”

“I say ‘Why are we paying $500 million and they’re paying $39?’” Trump said. “I can tell you why. Because the people that made the deal are stupid.”

Trump also chided Biden for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, calling the pact “very unfair and costly” to the US — and “without negotiating a better deal.”

“They wanted us back so badly,” he said. “I’ll tell you they wanted us. I was getting called from all of the countries. ‘You must come back into the Paris Accord.’ I said, ‘Tell me why? Give me one good reason?”

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The former president went on to highlight the double standard for America and developing countries in the deal, blasting Biden for not negotiating fairer terms upon rejoining.

“First of all, China doesn’t click in for 10 years,” Trump said. “Russia goes by an old standard which was not a clean standard.”

“But we get hit right from the beginning where is costs us hundreds of thousands and millions of jobs, it was a disaster, but they go back in. I could have made an unbelievable deal but I didn’t want to do that, surrendering millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to all of these other countries, almost all of them that were in the deal.

Trump continued, “what good does it do when we’re clean but China’s not, and Russia’s not, and India’s not.”

“They have favorable treatment,” he added “We don’t have favorable treatment.”

“[Biden] could have made a great deal– if they were going to go back in that’s fine– but they could have made a great deal. Instead they say, ‘we’re back in.’”

(NYP)

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Biden administration

Joe Biden administration defends its decision not to sanction Saudi Crown Prince

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The Biden administration defended its decision not to sanction Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally for his role in the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as the White House confirmed no more actions against the kingdom are imminent.

“The United States has not historically sanctioned the leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations or even some where we don’t have diplomatic relations,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Behind the scenes there are a range of diplomatic conversations.”

Despite President Joe Biden’s comment Friday in an interview with Univision that “we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday” — and a similar statement from at the White House on Saturday — the administration said it isn’t planning steps beyond the limited sanctions already announced against some Saudi officials.

“The recalibration of relations with Saudi Arabia began on January 20th and it’s ongoing,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration took a wide range of new actions on Friday. The President is referring to the fact that on Monday, the State Department will provide more details and elaborate on those announcements, not new announcements.”

Psaki, in a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration has been “crystal clear at every level” about recalibrating the relationship with Saudi Arabia and about it’s plan to “turn the page from the last four years.”

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On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced what he called a new “Khashoggi Ban” policy, barring U.S. visas for 76 Saudi individuals who the U.S. said had threatened dissidents abroad.

That action came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of an intelligence report that the Trump administration had withheld from the public. “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the intelligence agencies found.

Democratic lawmakers ramped up their calls for Biden to do more to hold the Saudi crown prince personally responsible. Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox that sanctions on Prince Mohammed should be considered “if we don’t see a change in behavior.”

The crown prince has said he accepts symbolic responsibility for the killing as the country’s de facto ruler. Saudi officials have said the murder was carried out by rogue agents who have since been prosecuted.

On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said the government “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.
(Livemint)

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