Can you go to ER? Nurses striking at one of the biggest NJ hospitals
🏥 Nurses began their strike in New Brunswick
🏥 RWJUH spent $17M on replacement staff via agency
🏥 Staffing ratios among top issues
NEW BRUNSWICK — About 1,700 nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital walked off the job on Friday, after working without a valid contract for over a month.
Despite the work action, the hospital in New Brunswick remained open, with replacement staff in place.
After months of bargaining that began in April, the nurses' most recent contract expired on June 30. Both parties then extended it through July 21.
Workers provided hospital management with notice of their intent to strike on July 24.
Four days later, RWJUH paid over $17 million as an initial payment to hire replacement nurses through an outside agency in the event of a strike.
Those replacement nurses started training on Monday, "to ensure seamless transition and continuity of patient care."
"We are deeply disappointed that the union has decided to take this extreme action. It did not and should not have come to this," a spokesperson for RWJUH said in a written statement.
Meanwhile, the union's president said “Our members remain deeply committed to our patients. However, we must address urgent concerns, like staffing."
"We need enough nurses on each shift, on each floor, so we can devote more time to each patient and keep ourselves safe on the job," Local 4-200 President Judy Danella said in a statement issued Friday.
🏥 Staffing ratios among top issues at RWJUH
Staffing levels at RWJUH have already remained among the highest in the state, according to the hospital, which cited available public data.
RWJUH also has been recruiting and retaining nurses at a rate that exceeds national averages.
The national average for nurse vacancy is 16%, while RWJUH is below 10%.
The issue feeds into the larger, statewide shortage of roughly 14,000 nurses, according to RWJUH, as New Jersey ranks among the 10 states with the most unfilled RN positions.
“We are deeply grateful for the community that supported us as we worked through the pandemic and for all those who are with us now as management is forcing us to make the painful decision to go on strike," Danella said, adding that the union remained "ready to continue bargaining."
RWJUH said it had a revised offer on Wednesday that addressed union staffing concerns and provided "$20 an hour bonuses for nurses should the hospital fall below agreed upon standards along with other economic improvements."
The union did not respond to the counteroffer, the hospital said.
With the strike underway, the contingency plan rolled out by RWJUH and U.S. Nurses would cost the following:
💵 $17.8 million for the first 7-9 days
💵 $10 million of incremental cost for the following week
💵 $4 million a week after that (most upfront costs would be expended)
Replacement workforce were covering all shifts, in order to maintain staffing levels and delivery of patient care, the hospital confirmed.
“Nursing is more than a job for most of us,” Danella continued. “It’s a mission. Our top priority is negotiating a fair contract so we can return to patient care.”