Nurses, techs at New Jersey hospital stage strike over working conditions

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Monday, May 23, 2022
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Nurses and technicians at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark went on strike Monday. Anthony Johnson has more for Eyewitness News.

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Nurses and technologists at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark went on strike at 7 a.m. Monday, citing what they call hospital management's blatant disregard for the safety of employees and patients.

The union, JNESO District Council 1 IUOE-AFL-CIO, also claims that management is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and that they are demanding "give backs" that defy 42-years of contract history with the hospital.

"During negotiations, management has demonstrated a lack of willingness to respond to issues such as safety, staffing levels, health insurance and pensions," said Virginia Treacy, Senior Negotiator for JNESO. "They have demanded more than 20 different 'give backs' from us without offering anything to benefit our members."

Negotiations for a new 3-year contract started on March 28, and the contract expired on May 4. The 10-day strike notice was issued to management on May 11.

Union officials listed the following items as their chief complaints:

--Hospital refusal to review or address comprehensive health/safety practices and procedures plan provided by JNESO.

--Ongoing staff shortage, including more than 50 open positions in critical areas such as ER, respiratory therapy and radiology.

--Removal of the Float Block guidelines currently in place to a "go anywhere we need you or go home" position putting patients at risk, particularly without proper training.

--Removal of the "steps" formula in place for 42 years to account for incremental raises by seniority regardless of wage packages that change contractually.

--Extremely limited access to specialty care for the employees. Offering NO out-of-network provisos for health care and limited access to specialty care facilities or physicians.

Union officials also say mid-shift cancellations of some nurses and floating of nurses to any area of the hospital is also a top concern.

"They want to eliminate the float block language we bargained for years ago that keeps nurses in areas they are competent and trained to serve," JNESO President Elfrieda Johnson said. "But the problem is you can't just place any nurse anywhere, particularly in critical care areas. This isn't safe for the nurses or the patients, it is a disaster waiting to happen."

The union represents 350 nurses and techs at St. Michael's, a 358-bed hospital that serves the local Newark community.

"JNESO fought hard alongside members of the community to save St. Michael's from closing in 2014, we have a vested interest in seeing it succeed," Johnson said. "But not at the expense of the nurses and techs who care for the patients and community every day."

the 350 striking workers have been replaced by outside agency staff. Hospital management says they plan to negotiate with the workers, but they have not set a date for the next round of talks.

ALSO READ | Why a New Jersey teacher has kept an empty chair in his classroom for 52 years

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