Nurses' strike hits Week 3
Home News Tribune Online 09/7/06
By DAVID STEGON
NEW BRUNSWICK — With trash bags wrapped around her legs and a sign rubber-banded to her chest, Mary Lynn Dupuis picketed in front of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital as Tropical Depression Ernesto soaked Central Jersey Saturday afternoon.
Despite the weather, a contingent of nurses maintained their post on the streets surrounding the hospital in a show of solidarity.
"I looked over and there was a man with water running straight off his hat into his coffee cup," said Dupuis, a nurse at the hospital for 18 years. "I asked him if it tasted a little watery and just started to laugh."
Today marks the start of the third week of the nurses strike. The hospital's more than 1,300 nurses walked off the job at 7 a.m. on Aug. 24 in protest of what they claim are unfair labor practices by the hospital and an inadequate health plan.
As the strike wears on, members along the picket line said they are united as ever, even as the bills at home start to mount.
"We feel the hospital is not trying to reach a deal, but instead break the union," said Diane Anderson, a nurse at the hospital for 16 years. "I can tell them that is not going to happen. If anything, that has brought us closer together."
Hospital officials said the latest offer, which was overwhelmingly rejected by the nurses union on Aug. 22, keeps them as some of the highest paid nurses in New Jersey and provides a health-care plan that is on par, if not better, than those at other hospitals around the state.
The two sides have not met since the strike began. Hospital officials said last week a federal mediator may bring them together this week, but that has yet to happen. Gov. Jon S. Corzine said at a town hall meeting Tuesday at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey that he may intervene and try to get the two sides talking again.
Until then the nurses continue to picket and look for work on the side. Many interviewed said they have started working per diem jobs at other hospitals, where they are paid on a day-to-day basis when needed.
"No, it's not enough to survive, but it at least helps," said Anderson, who is working at a medical center close to her home near the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border. "I call every morning to see if they need me."
A handful of nurses said they tried calling local medical centers looking for work, but have been unsuccessful.
The nurses allege that hospital officials have contacted these medical centers to blacklist them in exchange for Robert Wood Johnson providing scab work for nurses employed by these facilities.
John Patella, a hospital spokesman, said: "That's silly, in fact it would be illegal and a form of collusion."
Dr. William Oser, chief medical officer at JFK Medical Center in Edison, denied the claims, saying per diem nurses need orientation and training before being allowed to work. All Robert Wood Johnson nurses who worked for JFK before the strike continue to work on a per diem basis.
"Since we do not know how long the strike will last we do not want to bring in someone who may only work one or two days," Oser said. "We can't take anyone off the street and let them be a nurse. They must provide their certifications, go through an orientation, go through training and then they can work, so it's very difficult to bring someone in."
Other area medical centers contacted about the allegations yesterday evening did not respond by deadline.
Along with working per diem jobs, several nurses have applied for unemployment or accepted help from family members.
Tom Rooney, a spokesman for the union, said if the strike reaches a fourth week that a fund will be started to provide assistance for nurses in need. Along with collecting money, a community resource committee will be formed to lobby