Nurses and health care workers voted on Monday and Wednesday to authorize strikes at four hospitals represented by the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE/AFT/AFL-CIO) in Hudson County.
Members of HPAE, including registered nurses, health professionals, and dietary, housekeeping, and maintenance staff, voted at all-day meetings on Monday at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, and Bayonne Medical Center in Bayonne. They also voted on Wednesday at Palisades Medical Center.
The authorization allows the negotiating committees for the nurses and health care workers to send a 10-day notice of intent to strike to their hospital managements, in the event that negotiations do not result in a fair contract settlement by May 31, the expiration date for all four contracts.
The four HPAE groups represent 2,500 healthcare workers in Hudson County, and have indicated their intention to negotiate as often as necessary until May 31.
The union represents 450 registered nurses at Christ Hospital; 450 registered nurses, technical, ancillary, housekeeping, dietary, and maintenance staff at Meadowlands Hospital; 850 registered nurses, technical, ancillary, housekeeping, dietary, and maintenance staff at Bayonne Medical Center; and 800 members at Palisades Medical Center.
Several sources within Bayonne Medical Center said the hospital has already contracted with possible replacement workers if a strike is authorized so that the hospital will have no break in services.
According to the union, the main issues are: safe staffing levels, job security, the demands by hospitals for cuts in sick time and retirement security, and increases in health insurance costs for employees.
“During these hard economic times, it is still important to maintain our patient care standards, and retain our staff,” said Ann Twomey, president of HPAE, the state’s largest healthcare union. “We can’t do that if our hospitals attempt to make severe cuts in staffing, and in the policies that help us keep our nurses and caregivers at the bedside. Our members have always made sacrifices to provide the best patient care possible under increasingly difficult conditions – and we’ve done that while hospital CEOs made increasingly larger salaries.”
In Secaucus, LibertyHealth, the company that runs Meadowlands hospital, released a statement: “We are currently at the negotiating table. We have had nine productive sessions over the past several weeks. We are pleased to say that our employees who are union employees and our hospital management have come together on 35 non-economic issues. These represent virtually all of the non-economic issues. We are optimistic about reaching an agreement and averting a strike.”
“These contract negotiations are taking place during one of the most serious economic crises ever faced by our nation.” – Bayonne Medical Center
HPAE members called for a rally for health care in Bayonne Thursday, May 21, highlighting the negotiations taking place at Bayonne Medical Center with the new, for-profit ownership.
“The new motto at Bayonne Medical Center appears to be profits before patients,” complained Jeanne Otersen, spokesperson for the local union.
The Bayonne administration responded that this was not true. “These contract negotiations are taking place during one of the most serious economic crises ever faced by our nation,” said a statement.
In North Bergen, Otersen said on Wednesday that 96 percent of the union members at Palisades had voted in favor of the strike.
Each local union was expected to deliver the notices to employers by the end of this past week.