Staffing level concerns drive ongoing nurses strike at RWJUH
🔴 Nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital went on strike August 4
🔴 No new talks are scheduled
🔴 Staffing levels are the main issue for nurses
NEW BRUNSWICK — Nineteen days into their strike against Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center, nurses remain steadfast in their reasons for walking off the job.
Over 1,700 nurses represented by United Steelworkers Local 4-200 started walking the picket lines on Aug. 4 after talks between the two sides broke down. Both sides last talked Wednesday without any agreement.
The main sticking point is staffing levels at the hospital.
"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. She has been active with the union for 15 years and is part of the current negotiating team.
Bacany said that as a level one trauma facility and six time magnet hospital, Robert Wood Johnson often takes in patients that other hospitals cannot care for. Between high acuity and short-staffing, Bacany says she and her fellow nurses are taking care of too much.
"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.
Bacony said at one point the nurse-to-patient ratio was four nurses for every five patients. That nurse-to-patient ratio has since gone up, said Bacony.
"I want to come in and I want my patients to be taken care of to the best of my ability and anybody working with me. It's just very difficult at this point in time to take care of some of these patients because there's just too much on the nurse so we want a better staffing ratio," Bacony said.
No new talks
Some of the other sticking points between the two sides is medical insurance costs, a wage increase, and on-call pay.
RWJUH management has said its nurses are the among highest paid in the state. Bacony said that was true up until this year when the hospital did a union approved market adjustment which brought many of the nurses who have five years experience and under to one level.
"Let's use $40 an hour. What would happen is, all the nurses across New Jersey would make $40 an hour no matter where they work. I understand the reasoning that the hospital did that," Bacony said. "But what happened is many of the nurses that come to us they won't stay because the acuity is too high for the same rate of pay that you would get at a community hospital. So it's very difficult."
An immediate end to the strike does not seem in sight as no new negotiations are scheduled. Both sides last met on Aug. 16. Bacony said that as part of the negotiating team in the past, both sides sat down and had some give-and-take in their talks. That has not been the case this time, according to Bacony.
Bacony felt that just before the strike was called both sides were not that far apart. A mediator who specializes in health care was brought into the talks.
"That's why it's an unfair labor strike because there's no working back-and-forth. We gave them a proposal, they said 'no,' that was the end of the session," Bacony said. "I do believe yes, there has to be some meeting in the middle. But it's very hard to meet in the middle with someone if they're not willing to bend or give or even speak about what it is they need or don't need."
When asked to comment for this story, Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center referred New Jersey 101.5 to a statement released on Aug. 18.
“RWJUH did everything it could to avert a strike. Prior to the strike, the parties agreed to terms for a new contract which the union failed to ratify. Subsequently, the hospital submitted another offer just prior to August 4 to attempt to prevent a walkout. The union ignored that offer for more than a week and then countered it with a proposal well in excess of its last proposal.”