HPAE members begin contract negotiations across New Jersey amidst resilience in the face of ongoing COVID-19 tragedies
Lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic are motivating healthcare workers as they begin negotiations with healthcare employers across New Jersey. Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), the union representing 14,000 nurses and healthcare workers, are entering negotiations with an overarching focus on worker and patient safety measures, safe staffing, and infectious disease preparedness.
“Nurses and other healthcare professionals are well-respected in society and must be heard,” says HPAE President Debbie White, RN, “Their experiences over the last year have led to a set of demands that will go far to protect frontline caregivers. Ultimately, COVID-19 has served to highlight what we’ve said all along; worker safety is patient safety.”
White said the union’s members, and healthcare workers in general, continue to show tremendous courage and dedication as we are beginning to see another spike in COVID cases. Frontline healthcare workers, who have lived through a year of unprecedented circumstances, have come to recognize collective bargaining agreements are workers’ greatest protection.
“Healthcare workers have identified areas that must improve in order to reduce the risk to workers, help stem the rate of spread, improve patient outcomes, and create a safer environment for workers and patients,” White said. “And it is imperative that dedicated healthcare workers are given a seat at the table as advocates for a work environment that will help to recruit and retain essential staff—something desperately needed at this time.”
White said HPAE will also continue to fight for legislation to mandate employers to create infectious disease preparedness committees with workers as members. Meanwhile, the union’s locals will seek to include those issues, as well as quarantine and hazard pay in their contracts. HPAE locals are either at the bargaining table now or will be throughout the year for 6,000 nurses and healthcare workers at the following facilities:
- Local 5030, Hackensack Meridian Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, representing Registered Nurses, Professionals, Technical Staff, License Practical Nurses, Service Workers, and Skilled Maintenance Staff,
- Local 5097, Hackensack Meridian The Harborage, representing Certified Nursing Assistants, Housekeepers, and Dietary Staff,
- Local 5118, Cooper University Healthcare, in Camden, representing Registered Nurses,
- Local 5004, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, representing Registered Nurses,
- Local 5186, CarePoint Health Christ Hospital in Jersey City, representing Registered Nurses,
- Local 5185, CarePoint Health Bayonne Medical Center in Bayonne, representing Registered Nurses, Professionals, Technical Staff, Service Workers, and Business Office Clericals,
- Local 5142, Salem Medical Center in Salem, representing Registered Nurses,
- Local 5089, University Hospital in Newark, representing Registered Nurses,
- Local 5094, University Hospital in Newark, representing professional staff,
- Local 5103, The American Red Cross, in Philadelphia, representing Registered Nurses and Technical Staff in the Penn-Jersey Region,
- Local 5107, The Llanfair House Care and Rehabilitation Center in Wayne, The Visiting Nurses Association Health group of NJ, LLC, and Visiting Nurses Association of Englewood, representing Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses
At Palisades Medical Center, owned by Hackensack Meridian, two HPAE members died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. Transporter Alfredo Pabatao* died on March 26, 2020 and Patient Care Technician Nancy Martell died on July 12, 2020 after a long battle with the illness. A Palisades security officer, who is not a member of HPAE, also died of the disease. Maria Luisa Lopez, a registered nurse at Bayonne Medical Center, owned by CarePoint, died at the end of March of last year. Three other members of HPAE have died of complications from COVID-19 as well: George Sisnero and Nagi Abraham of University Hospital and Susan Cicala, a prison nurse who worked for Rutgers.
“We fought for protective equipment so all healthcare workers could continue to do their lifesaving work safely without infecting themselves and their patients. We filed complaints with the New Jersey Department of Health and with the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and OSHA has cited many of our employers.” White said.
White said HPAE advocated for laws to demand transparency and protections for healthcare workers and patients in all healthcare facilities, but met stiff resistance from employers, especially hospital operators.
“Despite the resistance we have encountered over the last year,” she continued, “HPAE members are headed to the bargaining table with resilience and determination to move in the right direction so every healthcare facility is prepared to handle any infectious disease outbreak in a manner that also protects its frontline workforce.”
“It is important for employers and operators of health facilities to listen to caregivers because they are the experts on the ground,” White said. “We must give healthcare workers a voice so they can be better equipped to protect themselves and their patients.”
* Alfredo Pabatao’s wife, Susana, an assistant nurse in a long-term care facility, died a few days later. Susana was not a member of HPAE.
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