Robert Wood Johnson nurses strike update

  1. Hope for strike's end?
    Federal mediator steps in

    Home News Tribune Online 08/30/06

    NEW BRUNSWICK-A federal mediator is expected to bring hospital and union officials together sometime next week, although an exact date has not been set, officials at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital said yesterday as the nurses strike moved into its sixth day.

    While looking forward to the meeting, hospital officials criticized union leadership, saying the union has failed to accurately communicate the demands of the hospital's more than 1,300 nurses. The nurses went on strike Thursday after twice rejecting contract offers by the hospital.

    Union officials deny the claim.

    "We thought we had an agreement," said John Gantner, executive vice president and treasurer at the hospital, referencing a tentative agreement that was reached between the two sides on Aug. 12, but was rejected by the union. "It's been frustrating and even uncomfortable because their negotiating team is out of touch with the wants of their members and that's left us in an awkward situation."

    Jerry Collins, president of the United Steelworkers Local 4-200 and a nurse at the hospital for 19 years, said the union's leadership is united and in touch with its members, but has suffered because of a lack of communication with the hospital.

    "We are very close to a deal and we feel that if we sat down face to face with hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Clifton R. Lacy and their negotiators that we would reach a deal in no time," Collins said. "We've been willing to meet, but they do not want to."

    John Patella, a hospital spokesman, said hospital officials are willing to listen to the union at any time, but during the strike are waiting for the federal mediator to bring the sides together.

    Collins said he had a meeting with hospital officials on Aug. 20, but the two sides have not met again. He said the last time they met without a federal mediator was more than a month ago.

    In federal mediation sessions, the sides meet separately with the negotiator who takes their concerns to the other side, but the two are not in the same room and do not have direct contact.

    Gantner said the problem lies in communication at the top of the union. He said union officials, including Collins, signed the tentative agreement giving their approval. Collins said he signed the agreement as a formality to send it to a vote.

    "Ultimately it is the union members' decision," Collins said. "As negotiators we can only work to get a good deal, but the decision is theirs."

    As for any problems within the union's leadership, Collins said, "There were some small communication issues early on, as can be expected, but nothing major. We are unified in getting a great deal and getting back to work."

    The union's primary complaint is large co-pays-between $800 and $1,000-nurses must pay if they use a hospital other than Robert Wood Johnson for any nonemergency care.

    In the latest offer, the hospital offered the nurses a 3 percent wage hike in each of the three years of the proposed contract, reduced health-care co-pays, increased the number of doctors and facilities in their health-care network, and increased pension contributions by 10 percent, but that deal was rejected.

    The nurses contend they want a system that does not steer them toward Robert Wood Johnson, citing monetary and privacy reasons and have offered three deals through Blue Cross Blue Shield they feel would be acceptable, but those were rejected by the hospital. Hospital officials said they did not feel the offers made financial sense despite the union's claim it would save $1.5 million over three years.

    "I do not know where they got those numbers," Gantner said, "because they are not right." The nurses plan to light candles tonight at 7:30 to draw attention to their cause.

    They continued their picketing yesterday in the rain with hundreds of nurses showing their support. Hospital officials said about 60 nurses have crossed picket lines, while union officials said the number is closer to 40.

    David Stegon:
    (732) 565-7251
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  3. by   EnergizerNurse
    Nurses' strike hits Week 3
    Home News Tribune Online 09/7/06

    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