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Brief Follow on Nurses Strike
A Response from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
I posted a longish piece yesterday based on interviews with striking nurses from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick on their walkout. It lacked comment from hospital administration because I had reached out later in the day but had not gotten back to me.
I heard back last night and wanted to add their perspective. I am writing a separate post so that their comments — a background email pointing me to previous public statements and a new statement — are not lost in a revision of my earlier post.
In the statement, hospital President Alan Lee says that the two sides had agreed to staffing levels early in the negotiations as part of an agreement with union leadership, but the membership rejected the agreement. Nurses I talked with described this agreement as an offer that the leadership team knew would be rejected but put before membership to show hospital management it was serious about its demands.
Lee also explains the reason the hospital says it sought the injunction and its promise to attempt to bring negotiations to a close quickly and fairly. I won’t comment on what I think about the statement. My readers should make up their own minds.
The hospital posted Lee’s statement on Friday, and I am posting it in full:
Dear Valued Community Members,
We are an organization deeply committed to transparency and open communication. As such, we will provide you with regular updates on hospital operations and our progress towards reaching a settlement with our RWJUH nurses. We continue to re-affirm our commitment to serve you - our patients and our community.
We are steadfast in our commitment to deliver the highest quality care in the safest environment. You can feel confident in knowing that regardless of the nursing strike, we will continue to care for our patients and our community without interruption.
Since day one of the strike on Friday, August 4th, we have deployed a team of nearly one-thousand highly-skilled and compassionate nurses who are seamlessly providing excellent care and delivering high-quality service and support across the entire hospital. As we enter our third week of the strike, we continue to be very pleased with their level of professionalism, proficiency and expertise. They will be here for us, and all of you, until a contract is achieved with our nurses.
Nursing Strike Overview
Since April, RWJUH has been engaged in months of good-faith negotiations with the nursing union to reach a new contract that reflects our commitment to providing high-quality care and fair compensation for our dedicated nurses. On July 17, both hospital and union leaders agreed to a new contract that would have ensured RWJUH would remain among the highest nurse staffing levels in the state and also would have further ensured that RWJUH nurses would remain the highest paid in New Jersey, more than 14% on average above their peers at similar hospitals, according to publicly available data.
Despite this agreement, the union membership rejected the contract, leading us to further negotiate in good faith. However, it became evident that the union was intent on striking. We offered to enter binding arbitration or participate in a board of inquiry, but the union declined both options. Additionally, we extended a new offer to the union on August 2 that would have established clearly defined staffing guidelines, further bolstered nurses’ highest-in-the-state salaries, and ensured zero increase in employee health contributions for a fourth consecutive year.
The hospital has participated in two mediation sessions on August 9 and on August 16. Both sessions lasted more than seven hours. At the August 9 meeting with the federal mediator, the union formally rejected the hospital’s latest offer and instead submitted a counterproposal well in excess of its last proposal. No further meetings have been scheduled by the mediator at this time. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work towards a contract settlement.
Costs of a Strike
This nursing strike has significant economic consequences for both us and for our nurses. We have already paid more than $76.2 Million for our replacement nurses with the highest levels of certification and experience in acute care and specialized clinical areas.
Unfortunately, as of September 1 RWJUH nurses must enroll in the federal COBRA program if they wish to continue in the RWJBarnabas Health System health and wellness benefit programs. This is due to the striking nurses not working the minimum number of hours required to qualify for employer-based benefits. The hospital raised our significant concern regarding this potential financial hardship to the union and the nurses themselves starting in July. We continue to implore the union leaders to consider the impact of this strike on their members and member families.
These funds could be better utilized for patient care, staff wages, and improvements throughout the hospital. Sadly, this will also deeply affect our nurses and their families, with lost wages and benefits.
We sincerely apologize to our neighbors and fellow businesses for the noise in our area currently generated by the striking nurses. We do not believe this is a time for celebration and have always strived to deliver a calm and healing environment for our patients and staff. We urge our union colleagues to please keep our patients in their hearts while they exercise their right to picket.
The well-being of our patients and our community remains our top priority.
We have made extensive investments in RWJUH and our workforce, and we are proud of our progress in quality, safety, and patient experience metrics. We were extremely proud to enable the gift of life to a father of three from Trenton who has been battling heart failure since 2020. Our ability to successfully complete a heart transplantation on day one of the strike and to discharge him to his home to heal and resume a normal life 10 days later exemplifies our commitment to you.
It is unfortunate that we have not yet been able to arrive at a resolution with the union. We have agreed to meet with them multiple times and have been willing to explore dispute resolution mechanisms, including binding arbitration.
Thank you for your continued support and patience. We are here and ready to treat you and your families.
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