somebody here jokingly mentioned we should all put signs out on our lawns for RN unity. Well, NJ RNs actually are doing it! And much more. And their community is learning why they need nurses....
For immediate release:
NJ Nurses Launch Massive Public Campaign for Fair Contract
by Genie Abrams
New York State Nurses Association
"Contract Now!" In New Jersey, that's the rallying cry on land, sea, and air.
The nurses at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point are making sure everyone knows they need a contract-one that guarantees safe staffing levels and decent working conditions
for the bargaining unit's 400 RNs.
They're shouting it at rallies, plastering it on posters, planting it on lawn signs, and flying it from banners behind airplanes that buzz the beaches and parks of the Jersey shore. It's been the subject of billboards, advertisements, flyers, newspaper stories, and even sermons. "It's the hot topic for everybody down here," said Laura Kennedy, a nursing representative for NYSNA in New Jersey. "Everywhere you go, people are talking about the nurses and the hospital."
JoAnne Gramlich, bargaining unit chair, puts the problem simply."I'm a preceptor in the ER, and I know that we have way too few experienced nurses there. It's the same in other units, too. The high turnover rate is absolutely caused by burnout and poor staffing, and we're letting the public know it
Back in June, the nurses union, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) hired a small airplane to fly over the crowded beaches near the hospital, dragging a banner proclaiming, "Shore Memorial Nurses: Contract Now!" That was so well received that they hired a plane to alternately drag two banners every weekend from August through Labor Day. One banner was the original. The other said, "Shore Memorial Unfair to Nurses!""We had lots of feedback from the banner-planes," said Lisa Ruiz, a NYSNA organizer. "People were calling the hospital to ask why the nurses don't have a contract."
Negotiations for the unit's first contract began in June 2001, and management has been stalling ever since.
Ads in the Fast Lane:
The public-awareness campaign quickly spread to the busy highways near the shore.
The hospital has rented billboards for several months, proclaiming that "The Best" nurses work at Shore Memorial. The RNs wanted to rent a billboard, too, saying, "Why are Shore Memorial nurses worried? Because inadequate staffing puts patient at risk." The first billboard company, however, turned the union down. The reason: it didn't want to offend one of its biggest clients--Shore Memorial Hospital.
"It was frustrating that the billboard company wanted to promote only the hospital's side of the story," said NYSNA nursing representative Laura Kennedy, "but this didn't deter us from trying to get the truth to the public." She quickly found another billboard company.
On August 21, two huge, full-color billboards identical to the rejected one went up over busy New Jersey highways."Those billboards really made us famous," Ruiz said. "When the American Federation of Teachers had their annual convention here this summer and saw the billboards, the teachers asked us for NYSNA T-shirts to take home with them.
Now everybody in the Cape Atlantic Central Labor Council is wearing them."
Echoing the message on the billboards, lawn signs supporting the nurses have sprouted like dandelions. "We got the idea for the lawn signs because this is an election year. Once people started seeing them on the nurses' lawns, they called us asking if they could have some, too,"
On the Side of the Angels:
Local clergy members also took notice. Ruiz was invited to speak at a meeting of the county's Methodist pastors, and Ventnor City United Methodist Church and others now have NYSNA RN signs up on their lawns.
"Reverend Clancy Wilson, at Ventor United Methodist, is an active member of the Labor/Religion Coalition and he always attends our rallies. The clergy sees this as a moral issue,"
Meanwhile, union members wanted the local news media to take notice, too. They tried to take an ad in a local daily paper. The answer was "yes" --- until the paper saw the ad. Then, like the first billboard company, it refused to accept it.
"We thought we were really out of luck then," Ruiz said. "We did take two ads in a weekly, but we thought we'd never get our side of the story into the dailies." But by then, the overwhelming presence of the campaign had become a legitimate news item. Less than two weeks later, the same paper that had refused NYSNA's paid ad sent a reporter to talk to the union about the issues involved in negotiations.
"The story was very fair, and presented both sides," Gramlich said. "Best of all, newspaper stories-unlike paid ads-are FREE."
Leaflet Your Board Members - Meet New People:
The public-awareness campaign continues with leafleting at the hospital board members' businesses. In August, the RNs stood outside an amusement park that is owned by a hospital board member, handing out flyers explaining their position and talking with hundreds of the park's customers
. In September, they did the same at the business of another board member--a liquor store just outside Ocean City.
Two New Developments:
One major development since the public-awareness campaign began is that the National Labor Relations Board has agreed to hear NYSNA's charges that the hospital has been unfairly targeting pro-union nurses.
Shore RNs who are bargaining team members, NYSNA claims, have been harassed, "counseled," and even threatened with discharge because of their union activities.
The charges will be heard on January 21, 2003. Also, the former CEO of the hospital, who had been there for 25 years, was abruptly replaced this summer. The new CEO, Albert Gutierrez, began his career as an X-ray technician and has worked his way up through the ranks. The RNs are cautiously optimistic that he will be more reasonable than his predecessor.
One of his first acts as CEO was to attend a negotiations session (the former CEO never attended) and announce that settling the contract was a top priority for him.
"We're hopeful now that we can get this contract done," Gramlich said. "We think all the publicity has had an effect and if we all stick together, we can do it."
Ruiz added, "We're definitely not going away. We'll keep the pressure on until we get a good first contract for these RNs, who've worked so hard for it."
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Doesnt this just want to make you stand up & cheer these nurses on? When these unified nurses obtain what they need in their workplace and have it in a written, legally binding contract, they will have raised the standard and the bar for their entire area. Other facilities in the area will have to come up to meet it if they want to remain competitive & keep their own staff from defecting to Shore Memorial. And the trickle-down effect will facilitate improvements for RNs in the the entire area because of what this group of RNs at this one facility did in unity.
THATS what being part of a nurses union is all about. THIS is an important part of what my membership dues are spent on & I gladly support that because when one group of nurses succeeds in improving her workplace conditions and conditions of employment, we ALL benefit.
Comments or Words of Encouragement for these nurses can be sent to:
In the subject line, write "Shore Memorial Nurses"
<Ok, do we make our own signs? We can take pictures and have an allnurse.com contest for the best, biggest, most! I don't belong to a union, so I am on my own. Let's try a campaign!>
This is a grass roots movement that could actually work. Its less expensive & time consuming than traveling to DC, can last more than 1 day, & can sweep the nation. It would be a helluvalot easier to organize something like this than it would to organize a mass walk-out - nobody could lose their licenses and no pts will be at risk by nurses just planting a sign. But the thing isnt just planting the signs -- we then get the attention spotlight with them & then talk up why theyre there.
I think the NJ nurses have started something big.
Last edit by -jt on Oct 28, '02
<Ok, do we make our own signs?>
Maybe.... or maybe we wont have to. Im checking into it. So I'd like to know - if there is a way to get a mass of lawn signs made up & made available for inexpensive purchase to cover the cost, would anybody purchase one & participate in the movement?
If people really want to try a national campaign with this, I can check into getting the signs made available.
Last edit by -jt on Oct 30, '02