After weeks of negotiations, intercessions by public officials and warnings by hospital officials, workers at Bayonne Medical Center found their morning staff locked out as of 7 a.m. on June 9.
Members of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) union, which represents about 840 employees at BMC, threatened a one-day strike for June 9, although relented after Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith and Rep. Congressman Albio Sires interceded, encouraging both sides to keep talking.
In a letter sent to all employees in May, BMC officials said they would bring in non-union workers if HPAE refused to work.
As an alternative to the work stoppage, union officials had planned an informational picket line, but soon discovered that replacement workers had been brought in about a half hour before the shift change at 7 a.m. on June 9.
“Bayonne Medical Center’s efforts to reach an agreement with the HPAE Local 5185 Sunday evening were unsuccessful,” said BMC Spokeswoman Allyson Miller. “The hospital presented informal proposals to the union that addressed many of our employees’ concerns, including those related to bumping, PTO, sick time, floating and call pay. The union was unfortunately not responsive to our informally proposed concessions.”
Miller said the hospital had earlier proposed a one-time bonus equal to 3.8 percent of average employee salaries tied to the early ratification of the contract.
“This proposal was twice rejected by the union,” Miller said. “In addition, the hospital’s final proposal permits it to reward our employees for outstanding performance with cash bonuses, and to raise base wages as necessary to remain competitive. Despite its criticism of the hospital for not investing in our staff, the union refused to agree to those changes. We were surprised to learn late Sunday evening that the union was considering withdrawing its strike notice scheduled for today (June 9). The union was informed that if the strike notice was withdrawn in writing by midnight Sunday evening, the hospital would be able to cancel the planned arrival of temporary staff .The union refused to do so.”
“Unfortunately, as a result, as of 7 a.m. today, Tuesday, employees will not be able to return to work indefinitely.” – Allyson Miller
HPAE Spokeswoman Jeanne Oterson said hospital officials knew this and still locked out the workers.
Miller said based on the union’s refusal to withdraw the strike notice Sunday evening, temporary staff began arriving on June 8.
“Unfortunately, as a result, as of 7 a.m. today, Tuesday, employees will not be able to return to work indefinitely,” Miller said. “We would like to assure the community that the hospital did everything possible to reach a fair and equitable agreement with the union.”
The union's contract at the hospital officially expired May 31.
Mayor Smith presses to continue talks
Deadlines had been extended several times over the last week in hopes to resolve the issue without the job action.
Mayor Smith has called upon BMC CEO Daniel Kane to avoid a lock out of the hospital’s unionized employees during the current labor negotiations.
“Lock-outs are harsh, anti-labor tactics from days gone by that have no place in New Jersey labor relations,” Smith said. “Responsible people can always negotiate a settlement if they keep talking.”
Smith urged both sides to get back to the bargaining table.
But Smith assailed the hospital’s stated plan to bring in replacement workers to take the place of the hospital’s regular staff.
“There are 20 different reasons why this is wrong for the Bayonne community,” said Smith. “We have no idea of the skill level or competence of these replacements workers. They are replacing highly skilled workers and they have now pledged to do so regardless of whether or not a strike actually occurs.”
Smith has been coordinating his efforts to avoid a strike with Congressman Albio Sires, State Labor Commissioner David Socolow and Health Commissioner Heather Howard.
"It is imperative that both sides extend the contract and continue negotiations until a successful conclusion of this bargaining process is reached,” Sires said after learning that the lock out was unavoidable. "I feel that all items are negotiable when you are dealing with the health and quality of life of close to 61,000 residents in the city of Bayonne. Both sides said they had been making progress Sunday before talks broke down over givebacks in the area of sick days and privileges for employees with seniority.”
Union members rejected BMC’s last offer
Union negotiators presented a final proposal offered by hospital management to its members in all-day meetings on Friday, June 5, but union leadership said it would not endorse the offer and it was rejected by membership. Union officials have also claimed that BMC was engaged in a war of intimidation against workers that supported the union. The union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against hospital management on Friday for violations of federal labor laws.
"The drastic changes these for-profit owners are demanding to our contract at Bayonne Medical Center would reduce staff for patient care, leave employees economically at risk in this economy, rob health care workers of the right to sick leave, and their seniority rights, for just a few examples. Instead of building up our hospital and uniting our community, these owners
are attempting to divide employees and tear apart our community” said Ann Twomey, president of the HPEA.