RWJ nurses on strike in NJ for one month, no new talks scheduled
🔴 The nurses walked out on Aug. 4 and lost their paid health benefits
🔴 No new talks are scheduled between United Steelworkers Local 4-200 and RWJUH
🔴 Gov. Phil Murphy has said very little publicly about the strike until recently
NEW BRUNSWICK — Monday marked one month since 1,700 nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital went on strike with both sides seemingly no closer to a settlement.
The nurses, members of United Steelworkers Local 4-200, are on the picket line daily with temporary staff in place to care for patients. Rene Bacany, a veteran nurse and member of the union's bargaining unit, told New Jersey 101.5 it's not a place anyone really wants to be.
"I can say everybody wants to get back to work, for sure. We want to be inside with our patients. It's been very hard, economically, mentally, and even physically for some of us. So the idea is definitely to come back to the table and to get back inside and do what we love to do. And let's take care of our patients," Bacany said.
RWJUH spokeswoman Wendy Gottsegen said the hospital did everything it could to avert a strike including accepting the union’s staffing proposal and compensation settlement.
"Ultimately it was the union’s decision to walk out. We have said time and again that no one benefits from a strike and hope the union shares our concerns over the impact it is having on our nurses and their families," Gottsegen said.
There does not seem to be any progress towards ending the strike as both sides last met on Aug. 16 with no new talks scheduled. The specifics of the offers have not been made public.
"The last time that we met was about two weeks ago. We gave a proposal, which they had for about eight days and we received pretty much 'no, no interest.' And that was it. There was no counter-proposal or anything else. And we have not heard from the mediator either," Bacany said.
Strike impact on future staffing
One of the impacts is financial as striking nurses lost their health benefits Friday and must pay for them through COBRA.
"It is a crying shame. We are about 1,700 nurses standing out on the street. We work for one of the two or three major healthcare corporations or health healthcare conglomerates, as I like to call them in the state, and we are losing our health insurance," Bacany said.
Bacany said no one has crossed the picket line and that union members who are under financial stress have found other work including at other hospitals. Bacany expects those nurses to give their notice once the strike is over.
"What it turns out to be is if we thought we were shorthanded before the strike, I have a feeling we're going to be a lot a lot worse shape when we get back inside," Besany said.
Case in point is the hospital telling probationary nurses who have been on the job for 90 days and joined the union that they can no longer work, according to Besany.
"To me it sounds like they are trying to bust the union. And I have a message for them. They will not bust this union. We are strong and we are steady. And we will persevere. Because we have to for the good of every patient and every family member that's in that hospital," Bacany said.
What Gov. Phil Murphy is saying, doing about the strike
Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have offered support for the striking nurses but union members are also disappointed at the lack of vocal support from Gov. Phil Murphy for most of the strike.
"It really doesn't look good on our picket line when he has nothing to say. We have reached out to the governor as a union. I know that the nurses that stand alongside of me have called his office and have texted him," Bacany said.
On his monthly News 12 New Jersey program on Thursday, Murphy expressed the same sentiment he did during the Rutgers facility strike in that both sides should get in a room, throw away the key and reach a resolution.
“I’m frustrated by this, frankly. This should be resolved. Let’s get this thing fixed and get it solved. Let these heroes get back to work, unburden them with the concerns that go with the strike and all the challenges that they’re currently going through," Murphy said.
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, says there are some differences between the Rutgers University faculty strike and the nurses strike. The biggest difference is that being that Rutgers receives approximately $1 billion in state support while Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital is privately owned.
"Robert Wood Johnson is different. It's a hospital that's in the private sector, and there is a little bit of an arm's length to the state's involvement. The state, with a pro-labor governor, is always going to be looking to provide support, is always going to be looking to be involved and to try and have a good solution. But it's not one where the state has that direct role that there is at Rutgers," Rasmussen told New Jersey 101.5.