Honoring requests made by Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, and Rep. Albio Sires, members of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) agreed to extend their deadline for a one-day strike by four days in order to allow negotiations to continue with Bayonne Medical Center.
BMC, meanwhile, said negotiations will in fact continue for a fifth day.
“In an effort to try to reach an agreement with the union, the Hospital has agreed to the HPAE’s request to extend the strike notice by an additional day,” said Allyson Miller, vice president of BMC Business Development. “The strike is now scheduled to begin on June 7 at 7:00 a.m.”
In a late breaking development, Ann Twomey, also the president of the union at BMC, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, officially resigned from the BMC Board on Friday, May 29 -- saying that her role on the Board of Trustees of the for-profit owned Bayonne Medical Center has been distorted into merely ‘furthering the economic interests of the owners.’”
Hospital officials also agreed to put off expected actions, including the hiring of replacement workers, in order to allow the negotiations to continue.
But hospital officials said they were pushing for a secret ballot by union membership to avoid pressure by union leaders to reject the hospital’s current offer.
In the wake of weekend settlements with Meadowlands, Palisades and Christ hospitals, Bayonne Medical Center remained the last Hudson County hospital still in negotiations.
Although the HPAE membership had voted to authorize a one-day strike at Bayonne Medical Center for June 1, both sides agreed to extend their contract deadline to June 6, after the intervention of elected officials.
“These agreements – which all address issues related to patient care, working conditions and retirement security for healthcare workers – demonstrate the willingness and ability of both sides to reach agreements that put health care access for Hudson County residents first,” said Twomey, in her role as president of the HPAE. “We are proud of the agreements, and the members of each local will now meet to review and vote on ratification.”
Bargaining continued Sunday at Bayonne Medical Center, whose for-profit management has threatened to lock out the 850 nurses and health care workers, hiring an agency to bring in out-of-state nurses and health care workers to replace workers. BMC took out ads saying they would lock-out members for two weeks, due to the contract they plan to sign with the agency.
Both sides of the negotiation took Monday off and were scheduled to resume on Tuesday, June 2.
BMC had set an original deadline of midnight on May 27 for negations to cease and had planned to hire replacement workers in the event of a strike. The Medical Center was prepared to lock out all unionized employees if there was a strike.
But Smith, Turner and Sires worked behind the scenes to avoid the confrontation.
Smith had hoped for at least a one-week cooling off period, but hospital management would only agree to four days.
“This situation must be resolved successfully for the benefit of Bayonne Medical Center, members of the HPAE, and for the residents of Bayonne, who deserve quality health care.” – Albio Sires
Smith said he felt a lock out was an unnecessary tactic that went beyond protocol.
“I would have to consider a lock out of unionized employees as a hostile act upon our community,” Smith said.
“This situation must be resolved successfully for the benefit of Bayonne Medical Center, members of the HPAE, and for the residents of Bayonne, who deserve quality health care,” said Sires. “It is my understanding that Bayonne Medical Center has not taken advantage of a state mediator provided by N.J. Commissioner of Labor David Socolow. I strongly urge Bayonne Medical Center to utilize federal and state mediators for assistance. Both Bayonne Medical Center and the HPAE should avoid any disruption in hospital operations until all negotiations have been exhausted. I agree with Mayor Mark Smith that no one party should take any action that would prevent a successful conclusion to these negotiations.”
All employees have received a letter from the hospital concerning the possible strike, saying that they had offered the union a continuation of a 3.1 percent wage increase given to membership in March 2009.
The hospital is offering a one-time bonus of two weeks regular pay upon ratification of the hospital’s contract proposal.
But the deadline was May 27, at which point, the hospital was expected to ratify contracts with replacement staff.
After the replacement staff reports to duty, union workers will not be allowed to cross the picket lines. Even if the strike lasts only one day as expected, workers would not be allowed to return, possibly as long as until a new contract agreement is reached.
The letter went on to say that employees would cease to receive wages if they go out on strike, and the hospital would stop paying medical and hospital insurance premiums.
Striking employees might not be eligible for unemployment benefits, or possibly not even union strike benefits.
The hospital would have the right to hire temporary or permanent replacements, and those strikers replaced with permanent workers would not have the right to return to work immediately when the strike ends.