1,700 nurses at New Jersey’s RWJ University Hospital to strike Friday

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By Dan Sears

The 1,700 nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital will walk off the job on Friday after contract talks between the New Brunswick hospital and its union failed to reach a deal.

“We will be on the picket line tomorrow. We have a lot of support from the members and hopefully we can eventually get back to the table and resolve this some way,” said Judy Danella, president of the United Steelworkers Local No. 4-200.

The strike marks the first by nurses at RWJ University Hospital since 2006, and follows a wave of other health care work stoppages across the U.S.

Danella said nurses are fighting for safer staffing levels so patients can receive the care they need.

“We always say better staffing always equals better care,” Danella said.

The union is also pushing for a cap on insurance premiums for the length of the three-year contract, and for wage increases.

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RWJ spokesperson Wendy Gottsegen said the hospital is still in negotiations and hopeful to avoid a strike.

Gottsegen said RWJ’s nurses are currently the highest paid in New Jersey, and that the hospital made its most recent offer to address staffing concerns on Wednesday. That deal would include a $20-per-hour bonus to nurses if the hospital were to fall below staffing standards as well as increased on-call pay, she said.

But she said the hospital hasn’t received any response from the union.

“[RWJ University Hospital] has twice accepted the union’s demands. We have offered to go to arbitration or submit to a board of inquiry, and the union has rejected both,” she said.

The hospital has contracted with travel nurses to take over patient care during the strike, and Danella said those workers arrived earlier this week.

Union members authorized a strike last month after 96% voted to reject a proposed contract agreement.

About a third of major work stoppages of 1,000 employees or more were led by nurses this year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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New Jersey hasn’t had any health care worker strikes in 2023, according to data compiled by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Last year, 350 nurses from St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark were on strike for 31 days before reaching a deal that included wage increases.

The RWJ University Hospital strike will be the second time picket lines come to New Brunswick this year. In April, Rutgers University’s teaching staff walked off the job for five days, paralyzing the flagship campus.

This story has been updated to include further response from a hospital spokesperson.

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