Nurse Strike Looming At Cooper Hospital; Union Demands Better Staffing - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Nurse Strike Looming At Cooper Hospital; Union Demands Better Staffing

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By Josh Bakan and Caren Lissner

May 28, 2024

Nurses at Cooper University Health Care will go on strike if they cannot get nurse-to-patient ratios in their new contract, according to union leadership.

Nursing-union members at Cooper and two North Jersey hospitals — Englewood and HMH Palisades Medical Center — voted overwhelmingly to authorize strikes if a deal isn’t reached in the coming days. Each union’s contract expires on Friday. Any workforce that doesn’t have a deal in place by that time will submit 10-day strike notice.

All three unions are chapters of Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), which represents nurses and health care workers throughout New Jersey. The organization has spent years pushing for “safe” ratios of nurses to patients to be enforced in their union contracts and in state law.

Safe staffing reduces burnout among nurses, which helps hospitals retain staff and improve patient safety, HPAE leadership said Tuesday in a news conference about the looming strikes.

“The most important thing to patients is ratios,” said HPAE President Debbie White. “They want to have an available staff person with them. These are very wealthy hospitals. They can afford to do this.”

Cooper University Hospital is the largest hospital in South Jersey, with 30,032 admitted patients and 24,041 surgeries performed in 2021, according to

With 1,500 workers enrolled, Cooper’s nursing union has the highest membership of the three HPAE chapters with looming strikes. Englewood’s chapter has about 800 members, while HMH Palisades’s contains about 750.

Each chapter held a vote to authorize the strikes if no deal is reached by the time their contracts end, with about 90 percent of each chapter voting in favor.

“Our nurses deserve safe staffing. Our patients deserve safe staffing,” said Doris Bell, president of HPAE Local 5118, which represents Cooper’s nurses in Camden. “Safe staffing saves lives.”

A Cooper spokesperson emailed Patch the following statement:

“Cooper has had staffing ratios in its nursing contract since 2004 — for two decades — demonstrating its longstanding commitment to patient safety and support of its nurses,” said Wendy A. Marano. “Cooper has been negotiating in good faith with HPAE and has proposed a significant wage increase and enhanced staffing ratios — some of the strongest in the state, once again, demonstrating Cooper’s commitment to its nurses and patient safety.”

For years, HPAE has been sounding the alarm on a “staffing crisis” in nursing, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The union has advocated for state legislation that would require minimum-staffing ratios at hospitals and other health care facilities.

But in the absence of legal mandates, nurse’s unions have fought for enforceable staffing ratios in their contracts. Last year, nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick went on strike for 120 days before reaching a tentative deal.

Nurses must provide 10 days’ notice before a strike so that hospitals can find replacement staff.

Bills to establish minimum-staffing requirements have remained stalled in the State Senate and Assembly. But White expressed optimism in the rising number of sponsors, 13 assembly members and seven state senators on board. Neither bill has advanced to a full vote in the State Senate or Assembly.

California and Massachusetts have laws enforcing staff ratios at hospitals. The HPAE has pointed to studies finding that California’s law lowered mortality and improved nurse retention.

A spokesperson for Hackensack Meridian Health, which runs Palisades Medical Center, said the hospital has been negotiating with the union in good faith.

“PMC is prepared to execute a comprehensive strike contingency plan to ensure minimal disruption for those getting care or visiting our hospital during HPAE’s strike,” Ben Goldstein told Patch via email. “Our plan includes hiring licensed, experienced temporary replacement team members who will care for patients during any strike.”

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