Failure to Reach Negotiation Could Lead to Largest Nurses Strike in South Jersey

By Lauren Wanko

“We’re setting deadlines to say we’re not going to sit at the table and spin in circles any longer and we will submit a strike notice if things don’t improve,” said Shore Nurse Union Lead Negotiator Eric Smith. “If the strike occurs, it would be the largest RN strike in the history of South New Jersey.”

Members of the Shore Nurse Union, an affiliate of the New York State Nurses Associated are frustrated. They say they’ve been bargaining over a new contract agreement with their employer — Shore Medical Center in Somers Point — for more than 12 months.

“They are proposing nurses giving back tens of thousands of dollars per nurse in benefit costs, retirement costs, paid time off cost, all while we’re asking for the status quo. In the previous contract, Shore Medical Center was able to make millions of dollars under these current terms we’re asking to keep,” said Smith.

“Nurses have a right to support our families and the proposal they’re putting together for me, my personal loss would be over $10,000 in pay,” said Shore Medical Center RN Case Manager Nancy Burton.

A Shore Medical Center spokesperson tells NJTV News they value and respect all of their nurses. They are obviously integral to their operations and their compensation and benefit packages are quite competitive, adding, “Shore Medical Center is currently in negotiations with an out of state Union that represents its nurses. We are encouraged that the union is engaging with us in meaningful bargaining. We are hopeful that through the collective bargaining process, we can reach an agreement and that a strike can be avoided. However, in the event there is a strike, we are well prepared with an experienced team of professional nurses to provide seamless care to our patients.”

Smith says the union’s tried to address multiple patient care issues at the bargaining table, like safe staffing and community rights. The bargaining unit — which represents more than 340 nurses — launched a new public campaign, Patients Above Profits.

“This is a situation that’s taking place not only here in South Jersey, but around our state, where employees continue to seek give backs and it’s just something we’re not gonna stand for,” said NJ AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkamech.

Smith says he worries how, what he calls Shore Medical Center’s economic takeaways, will impact nursing recruitment, retention and the community.

“If we can’t retain those highly trained nurses that have decades of experience, that impacts patient care,” he said.

Burton — a single mother — says some nurses have already left.

“A lot of the floor nurses, ER, OR, they’re short staffed and the mood and moral is low,” said Burton.

“We understand that everyone needs to make a profit. We’re not here saying these shouldn’t make a profit, but if you’re looking at what we’re making and our health care benefits and our pensions, then they should fair in what they’re doing,” said Wowkamech.

Shore Nurses Union are at the bargaining table today and tomorrow and everyday next week. Smith says they need to see signs of improvement by tomorrow. He says a strike would be a major disappointment on the nurses part, something they don’t want to do, but if that happens, nurses could be taking to the picket lines on Oct. 8.