Nursing is “Physically Taxing” and Should be on NY’s List
More than 380 occupations have historically qualified in the state of New York as “physically taxing” jobs, which made individuals in these positions eligible to retire at age 50, after 25 years of service, and begin to collect full retirement benefits. There’s only one problem. This list was not all-inclusive, and notably excluded professions dominated by women. The majority of the jobs listed included those in the trades held largely by men.
The New York State Nurses Association felt that nurses – a women-led profession – deserved to be on the list, too. So, in 2004, the group asked the city to include nurses at city hospitals, and their request as subsequently denied three times.
However, this month, the city finally acknowledged the validity of the argument, and the office of the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced a $20.8 million settlement, subject to court approval, in which the city will be required to compensate all nurses denied the benefit they qualify for. An estimated 1,665 nurses hired by the city from 1965 to 2012 will receive somewhere between $1,000 and $99,000 in compensation.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found in 2010 that the city discriminated against nurses by excluding them from its “physically taxing” list. At the time of the decision, 95 percent of New York State Nurses Association members were women. This case was referred to the Department of Justice, and when Mayor Bill de Blasio came into office, he acknowledged that nurses and midwives have difficult, demanding jobs. Raul Contreras, a spokesperson for de Blasio, said, “Approximately 1,700 currently employed and retired nurses and midwives will see a fair and equitable resolution for their years of service.”
“It’s a bittersweet kind of thing,” said Curlean Duncan-Britton, a nurse for more than thirty years at Kings County Hospital, of the long-awaited decision, adding, “Everyone knows that the nursing profession, 95 percent of our time we’re standing on our feet.” In 2008, Duncan-Britton and three other women brought the complaint to the EEOC. “I’ve had patients spit on me,” she said. “I’ve had patients fall on me.”
Anne Bové, who was a nurse at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan for more than forty years, said the settlement was a small step in the right direction acknowledging discrimination against women in the workforce. “It’s almost anticlimactic because all women have in this country is the right to vote,” she said. “There is no legislation for equal pay.”
The recent settlement concluded a seven-year effort by prosecutors negotiating relentlessly with the city. “Equal treatment under law means just that, equal treatment, and this office is committed to ensuring that women are treated fairly and equitably in the workplace,” said Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District.
The settlement also marked acknowledgment of the physically demanding nature of the nursing profession, in general, according to Susan Davis, the New York State Nurses Association’s general counsel. “Anybody who knows public health knows that what public health nurses do is so strenuous,” Davis said. “They’re dealing with the highest-risk population. They have enormous exposure.”