Persistence pays off for nurses fighting for quality care

Nurses who are represented by the Health Professionals and Allied Employees at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Southern Ocean Medical Center in New Jersey, are celebrating the ratification of new contracts with Hackensack Meridian Health. This victory comes after months of contentious negotiations and an outpouring of support from the community. Last month, the nurses at Southern Ocean voted overwhelmingly to remain HPAE members after a small group of nurses petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election to vote out the union.

HPAE Hackensack nurses

“Despite continued attacks on our right to union membership and representation, despite management’s desire to weaken our previous gains for workplace protections, despite the hiring of a union-busting firm to try to defeat us, our resiliency and persistence paid off,” says Kendra McCann, president of the JSUMC local. “We refused to succumb to the ploys of management while fighting to provide better patient care.”

Nurses defeated more than two dozen management proposals at each facility; the proposals would have required givebacks of existing protections, potentially eroding patient and worker safety in some cases. The members won a commitment from the health system to hire more nurses; reduce the cost for health insurance; increase access to care; and increase wages.

The nurses also negotiated a provision to take one week of leave to participate in medical missions. This stems from the AFT’s work to provide relief and support to our members in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after devastating hurricanes in 2017. Dozens of nurses, health professionals and public employees volunteered their time to participate in relief efforts. The inclusion of the proposal is key for members interested in taking part in future missions and serves as an example of how locals are bargaining for the common good—essentially expanding the union focus beyond wages and benefits to address broader community issues.

The new contracts cover 1,500 nurses at both hospitals and run retroactively from July 31, 2018, through May 31, 2020.

[Adrienne Coles/HPAE press release]