Community Members Deliver a Message of Support for Nurses Fighting for Safe Staffing Levels

Southern Ocean Nurses Set to Vote Yes to keep their union, their voice

MANAHAWKIN, N.J.— Unionized nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center (SOMC) were greeted by community members who gathered hundreds of signatures in support of their fight to protect patient safety at their community hospital.

“When I read in the news that the nurses, who have cared for my family, were struggling with the hospital administrators to get an agreement to make sure enough nurses are on staff to care for patients I felt I had to do something to help them in their efforts,” said Fran Agostini.

The petition reads, “We the undersigned support the nurses and caregivers of Southern Ocean Medical Center Local 5138 in their effort to increase nurse/patient ratios to satisfactory levels and provide optimal healthcare to patients.”

“After my husband was hospitalized this summer, I realized just how overwhelmed the staff are trying to care for so many patients at the same time. Then to see those same nurses who saved my husband are now in a struggle, not for themselves but to protect us, their patients, I was overcome with a desire to help support the nurses.  I wanted the nurses to understand the community stands w
ith them, and we will help them to make sure our hospital has enough nurses to care for every patient,” added Agostini.

In 2003 SOMC nurses voted to form their union, HPAE Local 5138, which at the time was a standalone community hospital.  Since then the hospital has affiliated first with Meridian Health and most recently in 2016 the health system affiliated to form Hackensack Meridian Health, now the largest healthcare corporation in NJ operating hospitals and other healthcare facilities across the state.

“As nurses we formed our union to give every nurse a voice in patient care and provide workplace protections. We are grateful for our patients and our community who understand that our first priority is caring for our patients’ safety. Yet, we are bargaining with a large healthcare corporation which has attempted to take away our voice and our rights during our contract negotiations. We are encouraged and motivated by the community’s support to continue to stand to speak up for safe staffing levels in our community hospital,” said Barbara Bosch, RN and President of HPAE Local 5138.

After an aggressive anti-union campaign during these negotiations, a small group of nurses have petitioned for an election. This vote comes after six months of bargaining with the corporate owners, who have attempted to take away protections the nurses have established in their previous contracts. Voting will take place on Tuesday, November 13 and Wednesday, November 14 at the hospital.

Wyatt Earp, President of the Monmouth Ocean Central Labor Council joined the community members in support of the nurses and said, “As health professionals, they are there for all of us when we need them most. Now it is our turn to say, we support you as our advocates, and we join you in speaking up for patient care. We will not accept Hackensack Meridian’s attempts to threaten the rights of nurses and jeopardize the health and safety of our patients and our communities.”

The nearly 300 SOMC nurses’ contract expired in July 2018. The union has been at the bargaining table with HMH since June. HPAE simultaneously is bargaining for a new contract for 1,100 nurses of HPAE Local 5058 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center whose contract also expired in July 2018.