👩‍⚕️ Thousands of nurses could strike in New Jersey

👩‍⚕️ Disputes are over 'safe staffing ratios'

👩‍⚕️ Contracts expire on Friday

Thousands of nurses are on the verge of walking off the job in New Jersey.

According to the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union (HPAE), nurses overwhelmingly approved a strike authorization at Englewood Health, Hackensack Meridian Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen and Cooper University Health Care in Camden.

Contracts at all three hospitals expire on Friday.

Nearly 3,000 nurses are employed by those healthcare facilities.

HPAE president Debbie White says more than 90% of members authorized the strike vote at each hospital.

What is the main sticking point?

The biggest barrier to reaching new agreements with all three hospitals is nurse-to-patient ratios.

White says union members “will do whatever is necessary to get this (enforceable staffing ratios) into our contracts."

Union officials say nurses are fleeing the profession because they are overworked due to understaffing at all healthcare facilities.

The HPAE says the nursing profession has never recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly a third of all licensed nurses leaving direct patients care. The union claims of the 147,000 licensed nurses in New Jersey, only about 50% are currently working.

attachment-Number of nurses in NJ

Between 202 and 2023 there has been a wave of early retirements or nurses abandoning the profession entirely.

When nurses went on strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick last year, it was also over staffing levels.

"The nurses are on strike to protect our patients. The nurses are on strike because we want better staffing, so we can deliver better care," Renee Bacany, an RWJ nurse for 17 years, told New Jersey 101.5.

"We don't want to see anything missed. We don't want to see that our patients don't get the care that we would always deliver in the past. When I started 15, 17 years (ago) it was extremely different than it is now," Bacony said.

attachment-Nurse turonver rate

When would nurses go on strike?

Even though nurses have authorized a strike, a walkout is not guaranteed.

Contracts at all three hospitals expire on Friday, but talks are continuing.

If union leaders determine no progress is being made and decide to call for a walkout, they must give the hospitals a minimum of 10-days notice.

That means the earliest a walkout could begin is June 10.

If a walkout does occur, a quick resolution may not happen.

The strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital lasted more than four months as both sides haggled over what they each believed were "safe staffing levels."

RWJUH nurses strike (United Steelworkers 4-200 via Twitter)
RWJUH nurses strike (United Steelworkers 4-200 via Twitter)

During a news conference on Tuesday, White said the final agreement with RWJ would serve as a benchmark in these current negotiations.

"I don't think our members will tolerate any less," White said.

State Lawmakers have refused to act on staffing levels

Nurses unions have been lobbying for years for the legislature to take action on staffing levels to no avail.

Tara Rojo, president of HPAE Local 5030 at Palisades, says simply safe staffing levels “save lives.”

When the issue came up last year, hundreds of nurses descended on the Statehouse in Trenton. Their pleas fell on deaf ears as lawmakers again failed to take action.

YouTube/United Steelworkers
YouTube/United Steelworkers

An intense lobbying effort by dozens of hospitals in New Jersey resulted in the bill (S1941) being tabled.

What are safe staffing levels?

The actual nurse-to-patient ratios currently vary by hospital facility.

Under the legislation proposed in Trenton, minimum staffing levels would be established based on departmental needs as follows:

👩‍⚕️ One registered nurse for every five patients on a medical/surgical unit

👩‍⚕️ One RN for every four patients in an emergency department

👩‍⚕️ One RN for every two patients in a critical care, intensive care, neonatal or burn unit

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