Striking Respiratory Therapists Monitored By Riot Police
Therapists Blame Death Of Boy On Understaffing
POSTED: 7:03 p.m. EST January 22, 2003
UPDATED: 7:47 p.m. EST January 22, 2003
VORHEES, N.J. -- Striking health care workers manned the picket lines in South Jersey Wednesday, while just a few feet away a line of riot police stood guard.
Amid all the tension, the death of a 6-year-old boy added an emotional undercurrent to the confrontation.
Respiratory therapists at Voorhees Pediatric Facility on Laurel Oak Road in Vorhees, N.J., started the strike a month ago over a contract dispute. The therapists are members of the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers, which the therapists joined in October 2001.
"We've been trying to bargain a contract for some hard-working men and women that work in this facility. And it's a shame that it's come down to something like this," said Tom Buffenbarger, the president of the union.
On Thursday, about 20 other union members -- some of them from out of state -- joined the 40 unionized respiratory therapists who were already on strike. However, they were outnumbered by nearly 100 police officers in full riot gear from Collingswood, N.J.; Pine Hill, N.J.; Berlin Township, N.J.; and Voorhees, N.J.
One demonstrator was arrested for blocking an entrance. Police Chief Keith Hummel of the Vorhees Township police said that the heavy police presence was appropriate.
"Well, we were concerned about the safety of the facility. We're concerned about the safety of the people who work here and are on the strike line," Hummel said.
With the protest outside, an investigator from New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services was inside Voorhees Pediatric.
The state is looking into the death of a 6-year-old North Jersey boy at the facility in January. The union said that understaffing played a part in the boy's death.
The striking therapists said that all they want is a fair contract.
"It's really bad because we really care about the kids. We work with them for a long time, at least 15 years, and we've been there for the kids whenever they've gotten there. We're always there for them," striking respiratory therapist Amy Cohen said. The 109-bed, long-term care facility handles medically fragile children under 20 years old.