Which can take the spotlight off one of the unspoken issues here: the union.
There is power in the union, and without them the U.S. would have been horribly screwed — and that includes countless ancestors who helped feed, clothe and shelter our families. But there have been rumblings amid this strike that, just maybe, the nurses are doing OK considering today’s circumstances.
“When I first started in 1980, there was a nurses strike that lasted 3 months. In those days it was a little bit more understandable,” said a hospital veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Now, anyone who has a job should be grateful, she said, noting that her daughter graduated from a prestigious nursing school and still had a hard time finding work.
“Pascack Valley’s nurses were members of the same union and look where they are,” she said. “GONE!”
Replacement workers were at their stations when the hospital began turning away nurses this morning. The 650-member union pulled its strike notice last night, but that apparently was too little too late.
“We have done everything in our power to reach a fair settlement,” the hospital said in a statement issued yesterday.
“We have met with the union 21 times and agreed to over 40 contract provisions. We withdrew our proposal to change the pension – the issue that the union said was the most important. [Monday] we increased our wage offer significantly. “
Negotiations broke down overnight between the hospital and the union, which says it was willing to continue working without a contract.
Staffing issues seemed the final impasse. The nurses say they agreed to add a half-hour without pay to the workday, but they refused to allow the hospital to increase the number of patients per nurse.
Management said the union already was warned that if the strike notice wasn’t withdrawn by noon this past Sunday, work for their ranks stopped at 7 this morning.
Beyond that, the official statement says: “We told the Union that if a contract was ratified by 11:59 PM [last night], we would welcome our nurses to work tomorrow morning, even though we have already contracted, scheduled, trained, and paid for skilled temporary nurses.”
“However, our first priority always is patient care,” it says. “It is not possible to pull together skilled temporary staff whenever the Union threatens to walk out. Nor is it possible for us to double our payroll by hiring temporary nurses and then paying our nurses as well.”
Word quickly spread after the first nurses showed up for work today. Then the protesting began. “Don’t gamble with health care!” some chanted, as a light drizzle fell.
Hospital officials emphasized that doctors and other critical staff members are at work, that ambulances can get in and out, and that all of the temporary hires are license nurses.
“We value our nurses. But in the current climate, nine hospitals in New Jersey have closed and six have declared bankruptcy in the past two years,” the hospital said in its statement. “Of the 73 remaining, over half are losing money. It would be irresponsible for us to agree to a contract that the medical center cannot afford.”
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