From the front lines to now a picket line, N.J. nurses say they are fed up and demand protections
Taken from NJ.com
By Spencer Kent | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
June 18, 2020
From the front lines to the picket line, nurses say they’ve had enough.
More than 1,500 nurses from two New Jersey hospitals say they’ve been “pushed to the limit” Thursday after failing to make progress in contract negotiations with Hackensack Meridian Health.
Nurses from Southern Ocean Medical Center in Stafford Township and Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune will picket on Sunday and Monday, according to a statement from Health Professionals and Allied Employees, the union that represents the nurses.
HPAE, the largest nurses union in the state, has been engaged in bargaining with Hackensack Meridian Health, calling for increased wages and adequate personal protective equipment. It also demanded restrictions on “non-nursing duties that may lead to… higher risk of exposure to contamination.”
Although the nurses will picket, they are not on strike, the union said.
The talks, according to the union, were chilly from the start, beginning with the firing of Adam Witt, a union leader and former nurse at Jersey Shore University who was terminated in April after “defending a fellow nurse being disciplined by Hackensack Meridian,” HPAE said at the time. (The union is still fighting for his reinstatement.)
The health system disputed the union’s claim about Witt.
“We have a different perspective,” a spokeswoman for Hackensack said in an email. “Our doctors and nurses are soldiers fighting a war. Adam Witt abandoned his shift. He was terminated because he went AWOL, not for the ‘reasons’ now being suggested by him or his surrogates. At all times – but especially during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – his first responsibility should have been to the patients at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.”
The email added: “We understand the union is fighting for his reinstatement but it’s important for the public to know that his termination was upheld by the formal appeal process that is prescribed in our contract with HPAE.”
The talks as a whole eventually soured completely, leading to the picket line, the union said.
But Hackensack Meridian called the talks with the union “productive” and made no mention of friction in an emailed statement. The health system said “both sides are listening and communicating well” and “progress is being made.” It vowed to bargain for contracts that provide “fair, competitive wages and benefits.”
“We are unclear as to why informational picketing is being organized because it’s inconsistent with what’s taking place during the bargaining discussions,” Hackensack Meridian said. It noted in the statement that it has always had an adequate stock of PPE and is working to procure a 90-day supply in the coming months.
The health network said it’s “creating separate COVID and non-COVID areas in our hospitals, testing team members for the virus, installing thermal cameras at every hospital and long-term care facility entrance to screen everyone who enters the building.”
But the union said nurses’ safety has and continues to be at risk. Union officials said they’ve lacked a voice at the table and called for a preparedness committee to be formed “so they can be part of decision making” to ensure adequate PPE for workers.
“Nurses faced insurmountable challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak,” Anna Pona, a registered nurse and president of HPAE Local 5138, said in a statement. “Providing care without adequate protection was a risk that no one should have to face.”