3 nursing unions in NJ negotiating new contracts

  1. HI, just so you all know there are 3 nursing unions in NJ negotiating new contracts at this time. Many have the same issues, competitive salaries, pensions, medical retirement benefits, staffing. Will be interesting to see how this works out. Are there really scab agency nurses out there that can fill this many nursing positions if all decided to strike together in order to acheive better benefits? This will involve 2 trauma hospitals (there are only 3 trauma level I in NJ) and 3 hospitals in South Jersey.
    http://www.angelfire.com/nj/rnunion/main.html
    http://www.jneso.org/
    http://www.hpae.org/
    and
    Pace I 300---no web page available

    Each union has over 1000 nurses in it.
    •  
  2. 27 Comments

  3. by   -jt
    add these to the list.....

    More New Jersey RNs Join NYSNA -
    negotiating first contracts
    http://www.nysna.org/news/press/pr2003/042403_b.htm
  4. by   lee1
    Nurse strike vote likely

    Published in the Home News Tribune 7/04/03 By APARNA NARAYANAN
    HEALTH WRITERNEW BRUNSWICK: Nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital could be headed for a strike.The union committee negotiating with hospital management on a new labor contract has decided not to recommend the hospital's final offer to its 1,000-plus member nurses, according to attorney Lori Smith, who was the lead negotiator for the Professional Health Care Division of PACE Local 300.If two-thirds of the nurses at a voting session set for Thursday reject the new contract, they will authorize a strike. The job action will not take effect immediately because federal law requires the union to give the hospital 10 days' notice of such intent.Negotiations on a new 3-year contract concluded early Tuesday between Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital management and the nurses' union.Hospital spokesman John Patella yesterday said Robert Wood Johnson provided the nurses' union with its last, best and final offer."It's a fair and competitive offer, and hopefully it will be accepted," he said.The chief demands of the nurses' union are for higher pay and retirement benefits. It argues Robert Wood Johnson nurses remain undercompensated: The starting wage at the hospital is $24.5 an hour and peaks at $31.72, before certain differentials and specialties are factored in.The average starting salary for a registered nurse in New Jersey is between $24 and $30 an hour -- or between $40,000 and $50,000 yearly -- depending on location, experience and shift, according to Barbara Tofani, director of the Center for Nursing of the New Jersey Hospital Association.Robert Wood Johnson nurses especially oppose the peak salary of $31.72 an hour -- which is reached in the 15th year and remains flat thereafter. This "flatlining" after the 15th year is a disincentive for experienced nurses to remain in the profession, they argue.The proposed contract adds three "pay steps" at years 20, 25 and 30 and makes each new step 50 cents higher than the previous one. But this falls short of the union's goal "to make each year a different grade level" or step, Smith said.While the nurses' union demanded wage increases of 20 percent, the new package offers across-the-board 5 percent wage increases in the first year of the 3-year contract, with a $2 market adjustment to the base rate for each step by the end of 2003.Additionally, the hospital rejected the nurses' demand for a defined retirement plan that would provide "a specific monthly benefit," Smith said, adding the final offer instead proposed improving the existing pension plan to which employees contribute.For hospital nurses, whose average age is about 40, a benefit plan is an issue of "increasing concern," she added.While the proposed contract showed "some movement" on the nurses' demand for three 12-hour shifts with full benefits, "it's not the full gamut of full-time benefits that the nurses were proposing," she continued."The final offer was inadequate and didn't recognize certain of these issues that are of great importance to the membership," Smith said, adding these nurses have been sent packages that detail the hospital's last offer and explain the union committee's decision to reject it.The committee's decision is not binding on union nurses -- who likely will vote on the contract Thursday -- but, Smith said, "I would imagine the committee's decision has an influence on the membership."Nurses and hospital management have been negotiating since April for a new labor contract to replace the one that expired Monday. In June, contract negotiations between the nurses' union and hospital management reached an impasse, and a federal mediator was called in to assist the parties.On May 27, about 300 Robert Wood Johnson nurses and their relatives marched in downtown New Brunswick to highlight their demands for higher pay and a pension. On June 18, they held a candlelight vigil on the sidewalk across from the main entrance of the hospital. Aparna Narayanan: (732) 565-7306; anarayan@thnt.com
  5. by   -jt
    <Robert Wood Johnson nurses remain undercompensated: The starting wage at the hospital is $24.5 an hour and peaks at $31.72,...which is reached in the 15th year and remains flat thereafter. This "flatlining" after the 15th year is a disincentive for experienced nurses to remain in the profession......For hospital nurses, whose average age is about 40, a benefit plan is an issue of "increasing concern,"....>

    The hospital could lose their prestigious Magnet Award designation if they cause a nurses strike, so the admin does have a big incentive to fix this and avoid a strike. Especially in view of the fact that they apparently have the money to make the improvements that the nurses need. Maybe its time to remind RWJ and everybody else in New Brunswick of the following......

    thread: NJ CEO SALARIES OBSCENE

    <<The $2 million Man

    Home News Tribune 1/12/03
    By SARAH GREENBLATT
    STAFF WRITER

    Compensation for hospital's CEO exceeds other health-care facilities'

    Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital President and CEO Harvey Holzberg earned a total compensation of $2.15 million in 2001, a figure higher than the national average. RWJUH spokesman John Patella said, however, that Holzberg's duties extend beyond just the hospital.

    Chief executive got a hefty raise.
    Executives are among the highest paid anywhere.
    Who can end the city's hospital feud?


    Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital isn't the largest in New Jersey, but it outclasses the nation's largest and most prestigious health-care facilities when it comes to paying its president.

    Harvey Holzberg, president and CEO of New Brunswick-based RWJUH, garnered a compensation package worth more than $2.15 million in 2001, featuring $1,225,355 in salary and bonuses, and $925,199 more in deferred compensation and benefits. The year before, Holzberg earned $1.8 million, with a compensation package featuring $801,471 in salary and bonuses and $1,066,148 in deferred compensation and benefits, according to tax filings by the hospital. The pay packages were more lavish than those earned by leaders of the Cleveland Clinic and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, although RWJUH's revenues are substantially less than at those internationally renowned hospitals.

    Sloan-Kettering, which generated $1.2 billion in revenues during 2001, provided its president with $1.4 million in compensation that year and $992,443 the year before. The hospital's president, Dr. Harold Varmus, formerly directed the National Institutes of Health and won the 1989 Nobel Prize in medicine.

    The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, which offered its president, Floyd Loop, a compensation package worth $1.67 million in 2000, reaped some $2.8 billion in revenues.

    Mount Sinai Medical Center President Barry R. Freedman received a $1.54 million compensation package in 2000, when the hospital generated $2.2 billion in revenues.

    By contrast, RWJUH garnered revenues of $422 million in 2000 and $440 million in 2001.


    Surprising pay

    Holzberg's pay package raises eyebrows among experts.

    "It certainly grabs your attention," said Gerald Griffith, a tax attorney in Detroit who specializes in health-care organizations. "That's a large number for a mid-size hospital."

    Uwe Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, called Holzberg's compensation "surprising."

    Hospitals like Sloan-Kettering and the Cleveland Clinic "are much larger, more prestigious, more globally known institutions," Reinhardt said. "One would not expect (the president of) Robert Wood Johnson to make as much or more than those."

    The larger the hospital, Reinhardt said, the harder it is to run.

    "The more revenue, the more patients, the more stuff that can go wrong," he said.

    RWJUH spokesman John Patella said, however, that Holzberg is responsible for far more than the hospital. As president of the hospital's parent organization - the Robert Wood Johnson Health Network - and the Robert Wood Johnson Health System, a statewide affiliation of eight hospitals as well as health centers and long-term care facilities, Holzberg presides over a $1.2 billion operation that employs 11,000 workers.

    Patella said it is unfair to compare Holzberg's salary with those of leaders of individual hospitals.

    Yet Holzberg's compensation also exceeded that of presidents of larger nonprofit health systems, according to tax filings by those organizations.

    The nation's largest private nonprofit hospital system, St. Louis-based Ascension Health, owns 65 hospitals that generated $5.8 billion in revenues in 2000. Its president garnered a pay package of $617,406 that year.

    The president of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, which operates 13 hospitals and took in $2.3 billion in patient revenues in 2000, received a compensation package of $1.09 million that year.

    The CEO of Johns Hopkins Hospital, who also runs the Johns Hopkins Health System -- a combined $1.02 billion academic health-care operation -- received a compensation package totaling $966,260 in 2000.

    RWJUH chief financial officer John Gantner said, however, that other hospitals and health systems may not report compensation figures as exhaustively as the New Brunswick-based institution.

    Gantner said Holzberg's 2001 compensation package, as reported to the IRS, featured some $732,117 in retirement benefits that have not yet vested and $193,082 in projected bonuses that he may never actually take home. Other hospitals may not report such contributions or projections, Gantner said, because the IRS does not require it.

    "That money hasn't left hospital coffers," Gantner said, calling RWJUH "ultra conservative" for reporting the data.

    Because the hospital was in dire financial straits when Holzberg arrived in 1989, Gantner said, contributions toward his retirement benefits had to be postponed until recent years.


    A metamorphosis

    Indeed, from a fiscal standpoint alone, RWJUH has been transformed during Holzberg's 14-year tenure. At the time of Holzberg's appointment, the hospital's name and the phrase "debt-ridden" often were mentioned together. The hospital faced an accumulated $15.6 million deficit on top of $13 million in unpaid physicians' salaries that were owed to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

    By 1994, RWJUH enjoyed an 11 percent increase over revenues the year before, while other area hospitals stagnated.

    In 1996, the hospital operated at a staggering 24 percent profit, albeit through a one-time adjustment in its reserves.

    RWJUH has continued to perform well financially, generating $3.6 million in profits in 2001 and $22.1 million the year before, Moody's Investors Service reported in September, when it reaffirmed the hospital's A1 bond rating.


    And the institution has grown under Holzberg's watch, including the construction of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at RWJUH, which opened in 2000. Holzberg also played a key role in enabling the Cancer Institute of New Jersey -- once housed in an office on George Street -- to evolve into the state's only center to gain designation by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive facility.

    In 2001, Holzberg received a $451,968 bonus that reflected his attainment of long-term hospital goals.


    Others' paychecks

    Holzberg's compensation is not unprecedented among CEOs of nonprofit hospitals; in 1998, the CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. David B. Skinner, garnered $2.38 million. But in 2000, NYPH's new CEO received $653,517, while Skinner earned $4.3 million in pay as a surgeon at the hospital.

    The president of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Dr. William Kelley, garnered $1.9 million in base pay in 1999-2000 just for his part-time duties heading the university hospital, but he was fired after the facility ran up a $300 million deficit and was forced to lay off 2,800 employees -- 20 percent of its workforce. He received a $5.8 million severance package.

    Still, Holzberg's pay in 2000 exceeded that of 90 percent of the CEOs of nonprofit hospitals that reap $50 million or more in annual revenues, according to a report released this year by Philanthropic Research, Inc. of Williamsburg, Va.

    Based on data from 749 nonprofit U.S. hospitals with revenues of $50 million or more, the report found that 90 percent of the CEOs received compensation packages worth $495,859 or less during 2000.

    The former CEO of Saint Peter's University Hospital, John Matuska, in 2000 garnered a pay package of $281,799.

    In 2001, Holzberg's compensation surpassed that of his peers at the nation's 282 largest charities based on revenues, according to an annual survey published in October by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. RWJUH was not included in the survey.

    Holzberg was ahead of all of the presidents in the survey, including Loop of the Cleveland Clinic, who was the highest-paid CEO.

    The Chronicle noted that some smaller organizations might pay their leaders more than those appearing in the survey.


    Pay up

    Nationwide, hospital executives have enjoyed substantial pay hikes in recent years, according to a survey published in July by Modern Healthcare magazine.

    Salaries for hospital presidents climbed faster than those of for-profit CEOs, the magazine reported. Between 2000 and 2001, the median pay for hospital CEOs rose 12.6 percent, while most corporate executives garnered a 4.4 percent raise.

    Yet even among hospital leaders, Holzberg's raise was unusually large, climbing 15 percent between 2000 and 2001.

    Regardless of a hospital's size, fiscal fitness or programmatic success, the Internal Revenue Service forbids employees of nonprofit organizations from garnering lavish pay, described as "excess benefits," said Mike Stewart, a former national practice leader for Buck Consultants in New York.

    A 1996 federal law allows the IRS to impose sanctions if compensation is found to be "unreasonable," Stewart said.

    "Pay must be comparable to what is paid for similar kinds of jobs in the marketplace," Stewart said.

    Under regulations that took effect last year, excess benefits are subject to a "tax" of 25 percent, which must be repaid to the nonprofit organization. Board members who knowingly approve unreasonable pay face penalties of 10 percent of the excess benefit.

    In response to the rules, Stewart said, compensation committees of nonprofit hospital boards typically hire consultants and review pay packages for leaders of similar institutions before deciding how much to pay their own CEO.

    While nonprofits must make efforts to prevent "a windfall," Griffith said, determining the reasonableness of compensation can be tricky.

    The IRS may allow bonuses and revenue-sharing arrangements, if they are subject to a "cap," according to the regulations.

    "There is no bright line to say if you go beyond that, it's excessive," he said, adding that the IRS routinely audits one or two health-care organizations in each state every year. The IRS also may opt to conduct an audit if its suspicions are triggered, he added.

    RWJUH was audited, as part of a routine review by the IRS in 2000 and 2001, Gantner said. After scrutinizing the hospital's compensation data, expense accounts, employee benefits and more, the IRS found that "we are a very compliant and careful organization," he said.


    Hard feelings

    Whether or not compensation packages run afoul of IRS rules, nonprofit hospital CEOs who garner generous paychecks can create resentment by employees.

    "It can be a big issue in morale," said John H. Vogel Jr., a professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business.

    Generous pay for a hospital CEO can send an adverse -- if unintentional -- signal to nurses and other employees who earn more modest salaries, Vogel said. "It sort of says here's what the hospital values and here's what they don't value," he said.

    Yet many nonprofit organizations have taken their cues from the corporate sector when deciding how much to pay their leaders, said Jon Van Til, a professor of urban studies at Rutgers-Camden and past president of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

    "We've had a lot of attention being paid to corporate CEOs who are overpaid," Van Til said. "There's been a kind of management mantra that's floated around the nonprofit sector to the effect that nonprofit organizations are also important and therefore, to show how important they are, they need to follow the lead of the for profits . . . It's sort of a sorry trend."

    A widespread fear that competing hospitals will lure away a valuable leader drives many hospital boards to increase salaries, Reinhardt said, contending that such worries are overblown.

    "There's always a fear that 'Mount Sinai will steal our CEO,' " Reinhardt said. "My feeling is that, within your ranks, you probably have someone who could take it over. People can grow into it. Look at George Bush; don't tell me he didn't grow into his job."

    For-profit hospitals typically provide their presidents with stock options that can lift their salaries to $15 million, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Washington-based Public Citizen Health Research Group.

    "My question is: Why are any of these people making this much?" Wolfe said. "Health care is supposed to be a service -- it is a service."

    Home News Tribune 1/12/03
    ###
    Last edit by -jt on Jul 5, '03
  6. by   lee1
    JT

    The vote is today so we will see what now happens.
    The last week has been full of informational meetings. And the hospital has big plans to expand children's and oncology services, but where will they get the staff when they are only offering barely competitive salaries. Maybe they can get them to start, but how to keep them is the bigger issue without enough retention incentives.
  7. by   -jt
    Good luck. Drop the Magnet Program a note about the situation. You can fill out the survey about how your hospital is behaving towards nurses since it won the Magnet Award for treating nurses so well, or you can just send an email about it:

    <<The Magnet Program wants to hear from you! Please take a moment to complete our online survey of staff nurses ...

    Your perspectives are important to the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Magnet Recognition Program. In an effort to continually improve the program, we would like to obtain your responses to this questionnaire...

    Although you are not required to identify the facility in which you work, doing so will provide us with valuable information that can be incorporated into our evaluations of current and prospective Magnet facilities. If you do choose to indicate the facility where you work, rest assured that your comments are submitted completely anonymously, and we have no way of identifying individual respondents.

    Thank you for your participation.

    http://nursingworld.org/ancc/magnet/survey.html

    --------------
    Complete info re Magnet Program:
    http://nursingworld.org/ancc/magnet/magnet.htm
  8. by   lee1
    well the vote came in. The issues are in the Home News, Star Ledger. Am waiting to find out if we renegotiate or what.

    Lopsided vote authorizes nurses' strike

    Published in the Home News Tribune 7/11/03 By APARNA NARAYANAN
    HEALTH WRITERNEW BRUNSWICK: Registered nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital yesterday paved the way for a possible strike by overwhelmingly voting against a proposed labor contract."Thank God," said registered nurse Patricia Avila, after a vote count showed hospital nurses had authorized a strike. "I'm very discouraged they would treat nurses in such a disrespectful manner."Robert Wood Johnson nurses, members of the Professional Health Care Division of PACE Local 300, argue their compensation levels are below industry standards. Their chief concerns -- for higher salaries and retirement benefits -- were not satisfactorily addressed in the new package, they said."I know what's going on in nursing, and Robert Wood Johnson needs to get on the bandwagon," Avila said.The nurses' poll on a new three-year contract began at 6:30 a.m. yesterday and closed at 7 p.m. Out of 792 votes, 618 were against the contract, 173 in favor, and one was declared void.To authorize a strike, two-thirds of the votes had to be against the contract. The job action does not take effect immediately because federal law requires the nurses' union to give the hospital 10 days' notice of intent. Over 1,000 Robert Wood Johnson Hospital nurses are members of Local 300.During this period, the federal mediator, who has so far participated in contract negotiations, will "officially direct negotiations," hospital spokesman John Patella said yesterday."We value our nurses and will explore whatever opportunities remain to reach a settlement," he said.If a nursing strike does occur, the hospital "has contingency plans that will allow it to remain open and continue providing patients with quality care," Patella added, declining to discuss the plans.Hospital nurses also expressed hope that a settlement would be reached.Ellen Quinlan, a registered nurse at Robert Wood Johnson since 1980, said she expects the hospital to be back at the bargaining table within days."Robert Wood Johnson cannot afford to run without its nurses," she said, adding "our needs were not addressed, much less met, by this contract."Negotiations began in April between the nurses' union and hospital management on a new three-year contract. The hospital made its final offer on June 30, but the nurses' negotiating committee, describing the contract as inadequate, unanimously rejected it on July 1."It fell far below our expectations," Karen Carey, a registered nurse, said yesterday. The nurses' chief demands are for higher pay and retirement benefits.The entry-level wage for a nurse at the hospital is $24.54 an hour. The average starting salary for a registered nurse in New Jersey is between $24 and $30 an hour, or between $40,000 and $50,000 yearly, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association.Robert Wood Johnson nurses sought wage increases of 15 percent in the first year of the contract. The proposed contract offered wage increases of 5 percent in the first year, with a $2 market adjustment by the end of 2003.The 15 percent increase to the hourly rate that nurses seek will bring new hires up to the industry standards, hospital nurses argue. They especially oppose the peak hourly rate of $31.72, which is reached in the 15th year and remains flat thereafter.Although starting wages seem attractive, nurses' salaries "flatline" early and afford no long-term benefit to staying in the profession, they said.Robert Wood Johnson nurses demanded making each year in nursing a "pay step," with a corresponding hourly rate increase each year. The proposed contract adds three "pay steps" at years 20, 25 and 30, and makes each 50 cents higher than the previous pay step."It's too little, too late," Carey said. "At year 20, 25 and 30 you're looking to retire and the hospital is offering a 50-cent increase?"Nurses also described the hospital's proposed improvements to the existing pension plan as falling short of their expectations. In addition, they sought retirements benefits -- including a defined monthly pension and a yearly medical stipend of $3,000 -- demands that were rejected by hospital management.Their demand for a 36-hour work week to qualify for full-time benefits also was not adequately met, they said. Like her colleagues, registered nurse Judy Danella said she hopes a settlement could be reached on a new contract."None of us wants to strike. It hurts us as a hospital," she said. "But we feel we have the best nurses in the state. I hope they'll resolve it." Contributing: staff writer Raven Hill
  9. by   lee1
    Virtua hospitals have ratified new contract, so one done. They turned down first vote I believe related to pension----which they have, defined like we want, but wanted greater imput into it.

    Virtua nurses approve contract
    By DANIELLE DELFIN
    Burlington County Times


    Union officials said last night nurses from Virtua Health's West Jersey hospitals approved a new three-year contract yesterday that increases salary and places vested members into a guaranteed pension plan with defined benefits.

    Members of JNESO, the union that represents the 1,074 nurses, voted to approve the new contract at the Clarion Hotel in Cherry Hill yesterday.

    The tentative settlement of the contract last week kept nurses working at Virtua West Jersey Hospital Marlton on Brick Road in Evesham, as well as at hospitals in Berlin and Voorhees in Camden County.

    JNESO also represents nurses who provide care on emergency medical helicopters and in Virtua's home health-care operations.

    Two weeks ago, JNESO members voted to give union officials strike authorization when and if the negotiations broke down. The tentative agreement prevented any work stoppage, union officials said.

    "This is a decent contract," said Virginia Treacy, JNESO's executive director. "We feel it is an equitable offer and prepares us to move forward in the future."

    The union, JNESO officials said, scored a major victory in its efforts to improve the nurses' pension plans.

    In January, Virtua decided to switch from a defined pension plan with no employee contribution to a 401(k) plan with an em-ployer match. The union opposed the plan and an arbitrator told the health system to re-establish the original plan last week.

    Instead, the union and Virtua agreed to enroll vested nurses, those with five or more years experience, into the central pension fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers, of which JNESO is a member.

    It is the fourth-largest pension fund in the country with more than $6 billion in assets.

    More than 650 of the 1,074 nurses in JNESO have worked for Virtua for more than five years, Treacy said.

    Virtua will contribute 75 cents for every hour worked by a nurse, retroactive to January, into the pension fund. With this contribution, the average JNESO nurse will start with about $1,000 in the fund, Treacy said.

    Next year, Virtua will make the same contribution and, in the final year of the contract, the health system will contribute $1 for every hour worked into the defined benefits plan.

    Virtua will begin making the same contributions for new nurses once their 90-day probation period is over, but those nurses will not be entitled to the pension until they have reached the five-year mark.

    Salaries also will increase, Treacy said.

    Depending on the number of years of experience, nurses' sal-aries will rise 4 to 6.4 percent each year of the contract. Each nurse also will get an additional increase for each year of experience as he or she moves up a "step" on the pay scale, Treacy said. Over the three years, the nurses with salary and step in-creases will receive an average salary increase from 13.2 to 20.9 percent.

    Per diem rates also increased, she said.

    In addition to the economic package, the union made strides on work issues, including mandatory overtime, holiday hours, paid time off and staffing, Treacy said.

    Email: ddelfin@phillyBurbs.com




    July 10, 2003 6:26 AM
  10. by   lee1
    RWJUH has reached tentative agreement with union and awaiting vote. DEFINED retirement PENSION obtained.
  11. by   pickledpepperRN
    Originally posted by lee1
    RWJUH has reached tentative agreement with union and awaiting vote. DEFINED retirement PENSION obtained.
    GREAT!
  12. by   -jt
    <RWJUH has reached tentative agreement with union and awaiting vote. DEFINED retirement PENSION obtained>

    No surprise there. Just as expected. The possibility of losing their prestigious, coveted magnet award designation is a big incentive for the hospital to come to an agreement without forcing an RN strike.
    Congratulations.
  13. by   lee1
    Now for the surprise. Much division has occured as many nurses did not realize or they chose to ignore the fact that the hospital will not offer both----defined pension and MATCHED 403B. The 403B is intact for you to save into but the match only will stop. Vote is soon on Thursday so who knows yet how this will go.
  14. by   lee1
    Nurses reject RWJUH offer


    Published in the Home News Tribune 7/25/03
    Hospital again faces strike threat

    By APARNA NARAYANAN
    HEALTH WRITER
    NEW BRUNSWICK: For the second time in two weeks, registered nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital voted by majority to reject the hospital's offer on a new labor contract.

    Of 721 votes cast yesterday, 552 were against the hospital's proposed contract -- meeting the two-thirds requirement to authorize a strike.

    "Nurses today are very aware how undercompensated they are. This vote reflects that awareness," said nurse Karen Carey, a member of the union's negotiation committee.

    She said the vote signaled the nurses' preparedness to strike.

    "We will not cross the picket line," she said. "This vote without a doubt means these nurses are prepared to walk." But while expressing "pride" in the vote and her fellow nurses, Carey also expressed hope that negotiations would continue.

    "We are hopeful that we will go back to the table and fill in the missing pieces," she said.

    Staff nurses, who cheered the results of the vote tally by high-fiving each other, said they again will serve a 10-day strike notice to the hospital, as required by federal law of health-care workers.

    The nurses' union, PACE Local 300, rescinded a prior 10-day strike notice after the nurses' negotiating committee voted 10-5 on July 17 to support the hospital's new terms on a contract -- including a defined pension plan that provides a specific monthly benefit at retirement and credit for continuous years of nursing work before joining the hospital.

    The credit applies to nurses on the payroll when the hospital begins to participate in the pension plan.

    "Pension was a good start," but other issues went unaddressed, said nurse Jim Reardon, also a committee member. Issues that were missed included higher wage increases in the second and third years of the three-year contract; medical stipends for retirees; and a 36-hour week with full-time benefits, he added.

    "The nurses are the real union," he said, adding nurses will seek a general meeting with union leaders and their committee members before further talks.

    "They want the union to listen to what they have to say," he said. "They felt they were not informed properly."

    Tom Rooney, another staff nurse, said he was surprised but "delighted" by the results.

    "I didn't think they could pull it off," he said, adding "the hospital has yet to come up with a plan to make the nurses happy."

    Hospital representatives said they were "puzzled by the rejection," given the terms of the proposed contract, the hospital's concession on the pension issue and the agreement reached with the union on July 17.

    The hospital's offer includes first-year raises ranging from 11.3 to 17 percent and raises ranging up to 28.6 percent over the full three years of the contract, and it increases the starting salary of a new nurse to $58,000 dollars, they said.

    "It is one of the best economic packages offered anywhere, for any industry," hospital spokesman John Patella said. "It's no wonder that the union leadership accepted this agreement. It's a very rich package."

    Hospital officials said they would be working to avert a strike but will continue to prepare for one.

    "If the mediator calls us back to the table, we'll go back to the table," Patella said.

    Attorney Lori Smith, who was the lead negotiator for the nurses' union and helped the negotiating parties reach a tentative agreement last week, described the result as "surprising."

    "We will see what they (nurses) are reacting to and will see if there is a way to work together for a resolution," she said.

    Negotiations began in April on a new three-year labor contract for Robert Wood Johnson nurses. On June 30, the old contract expired, and 10 days later nurses decided by an overwhelming majority to vote against the hospital's "best, final offer," thereby authorizing a strike.

    In subsequent days, federal and state mediators led negotiations between hospital management and the nurses' negotiating committee. A revised proposal on the labor contract won the support of a majority of committee members July 17, but this was rejected by nurses yesterday.

    Aparna Narayanan732) 565-7306; e-mailanarayan@thnt.com

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