Covid-19 pandemic frontline nursing heroes held informational picket to demand respect, protections and recognition for their heroic work - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Covid-19 pandemic frontline nursing heroes held informational picket to demand respect, protections and recognition for their heroic work

Union Members Practiced Social Distancing During Action

Jersey Shore University Medical Center unionized Nurses held an informational picket today to protest lack of progress and retrogressive policy proposals by Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) in their contract negotiations.

“It’s not bad enough that we have to go through Covid-19 but now we have to go through this?” HPAE President Debbie White, RN, said to raucous applause from the more than 400 nurses participating in the morning informational picket. “I’m here to tell you that ignoring nurses is bad medicine. Nurses need to be heard. Nurses need to be respected. Nurses need a seat at the table in planning how to deal with future pandemics.”

The 1,300 nurses represented by HPAE Local 5058 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center have bravely cared for thousands of patients on the Covid-19 pandemic frontlines. Nurses were joined on the picket by their families, including children, and members of the community. Passing motorists blared horns in support of the nurses marching in the sweltering morning heat.

At the bargaining table they are calling for a voice in pandemic preparedness in their facility; restrictions on “floating” nurses to units outside of their designated skill level; and fair wages for every nurse as they are the healthcare heroes who made tremendous sacrifices during a global pandemic.

The nurses held the informational picket at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and plan another one from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today.

Also at the picketing supporting the nurses is Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling.

“I support HPAE and I do think ignoring nurses is bad medicine,” Houghtaling said. “The fact of the matter is, if you have to stand out here to get your voices heard, then there is something wrong and we’ve got to get to the bottom of that. And, you know what, I’ll stand with you until you get this straightened out.”

HPAE Local 5058 President Adam Witt, RN, said members of the negotiating team have told HMH management time and again that nurses are frustrated, angry and fed up with all the issues they have been dealing with, from poor payroll to scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) to unilateral decisions the corporation makes that hurt nurses.

“One thing after another, it’s a total refusal,” Witt said. “Our showing up here today is exactly what they need to see, to see that we are angry, we are fed up and we are not putting up with it anymore.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, HPAE’s national union, energized the nurses with a fiery take-no-prisoners speech.

“You guys rock!” Weingarten said to loud applause. “You kept southern New Jersey as healthy as possible. . . . You’ve tamed the Covid-19 beast. It may not be forever but you’ve tamed this beast. That’s in large part because of what you did. That’s why they don’t have a sign that says ‘Thank the CEOs.’ They have a sign that says ‘Thank the Heroes,’ of which you are them.”

Then Weingarten talked about the issue that seems to vex the nurses more than any other, “floating.”

“Do you think they would ever do to doctors what they want to do to nurses? Would they ever say to an OBGYN, ‘oh, by the way, you’re doing heart surgery today?’ Of course not. Why do they want to do that to you? It makes no sense. It’s not fair to you; it traumatizes you and it’s really unfair to the patients. And. it is just plain stupid,” Weingarten, her voice rising, told the nurses.

“So, I want to be here today as your national president—we represent 200,000 nurses in the U.S.—to say we will fight with you for fairness and justice and your national union will do anything it can to support Adam and Debbie and all of you,” she said.

Nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center represented by HPAE Local 5138 reached an agreement with Hackensack Meridian early this morning on Monday, June 22, 2020.  A date has not been announced as to when the members will vote on whether to ratify the tentative agreement. Details of the contract will be released after the members ratify the agreement.

For more information, please contact:
Michael O. Allen