Union County, Cornerstone Hospital Staff Stuck in Negotiations - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Union County, Cornerstone Hospital Staff Stuck in Negotiations

Taken from Tap into Westfield

By Andrea Crowley-Hughes

February 15, 2024

HPAE asks to add staff members to their contract.

Members of a union representing nurses at Cornerstone Behavioral Health Hospital in Berkeley Heights appear to be stalled in negotiations with the county to add more staff onto their contract.

The county sold the hospital, formerly known as Runnells Specialized Hospital, in 2014, but leased back its 44-bed psychiatric unit from an affiliate of Center Management Group.

Nurses who belong to Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) Local 5112, speaking at the Jan. 25 commissioner board meeting, said county representatives walked away from the bargaining table in January.

The union had been bargaining with the county since November 2023 to add four social workers and one recreational therapist, all of whom work at Cornerstone, to their contract, according to union officials.

The contract, ratified in 2022, includes an across-the-board 2% annual wage increase, a revised wage scale and a freeze on healthcare premium increases.
A spokesperson for the union told TAPinto on Tuesday, Feb. 12, that the union had not made progress in their negotiations since making their public comments.

“The cost of adding these workers on the union contract is minimal, compared to salary increases and compensations that Union County has already given out to top county officials and other county employees,” Alexis Rean-Walker, secretary-treasurer for HPAE Local 5112, said at the Jan. 25 meeting.

“On behalf of HPAE, I am asking you as leaders of Union County to compel county representatives to not only return to the bargaining table, but to negotiate in good faith and to respect healthcare professionals at Cornerstone,” Rean-Walker said.
Anne-Marie Howarth, president of HPAE Local 5112, said Cornerstone is severely understaffed and has had difficulty filling positions due to wages.

“None of the applicants that have been interviewed are willing to accept these positions because Cornerstone’s starting salary is too low,” Howarth said, describing the hospital’s current search for registered nurses. “They’re not going to go from one job to one that’s going to pay them even lower.”
Kathy Hatfield, a county labor representative, said the county voluntarily recognized the titles the union asked them to, but remains firm on the issue of wages.

“I think what HPAE misses is that just because we haven’t agreed to every single one of their proposals doesn’t mean we aren’t negotiating in good faith,” Hatfield said at the Jan. 25 meeting. “We did agree to probably about 85% of their proposals and part of the reason why we are sticking firm on our wage proposal is because the individuals at issue here received market adjustments in January of 2023.”

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