SOMC Nurses Vote Decisively to Remain in Union

Nov 15, 2018
Supplied Photo Nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center Wednesday celebrate a vote to remain in the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union.

In an autumn that will be remembered for a number of extremely tight elections, there was a blowout in Manahawkin on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The nurses at the Southern Ocean Medical Center voted in a decertification election, an effort by some to break up Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5138 at the hospital still known by many locals as SOCH.

The union had been supremely confident that a majority of its members would vote to remain unionized.

“The intimidation over the last month in our hospital has increased as managers have attempted to pressure nurses, even recently hired nurses who were asked to sign a decertification petition on their first day on the job,” said Anna Pona, an elected officer of Local 5138 back in October. “Yet, many of the nurses have come forward to say they are standing together as a union to demand safe patient limits and workplace protections in a union contract.”

Meanwhile, management at SOMC, part of the Hackensack Meridian Health system, also expressed confidence that nurses would vote to reject the union.

“More than 70 percent of nurses working at SOMC today never had a choice about union representation – HPAE was already in place,” said Regina Foley, chief operating officer at the hospital.

Well, the union was right. An overwhelming percentage of SOMC nurses wanted the union to remain.

Some 87 percent of the nearly 300 SOMC nurses voted in the election and 85 percent of them voted to remain in the union.

“Since our local’s first vote to form our union in 2003, we have stood together to fight for protections that have improved patient safety and the workplace environment,” said Barbara Bosch, president of HPAE Local 5138. “Those improvements have allowed for the recruitment and retention of experienced nursing staff. Today’s vote just reaffirms that commitment by the nurses of SOMC.”

Indeed, the vote was more decisive than in the original vote forming the local in 2003 when 66 percent of the nurses at what was then Southern Ocean County Hospital (SOCH) favored forming a union.

The unionized nurses were scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Thursday. They’ll be joined by representatives of HPAE Local 5058 at the Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, another Hackensack Meridian facility with some 1,100 nurses.

Hackensack Meridian Health was taking a hard line in bargaining, saying that its last contract offer, made in late October, was its “last, best and final” offer. According to a HMH statement issued on Nov. 2, the union could either accept it, decline it or call a strike.

Now that the healthcare giant knows it will continue to have to deal with the union, perhaps that final offer won’t remain so final with the leverage of possible decertification removed.

— Rick Mellerup


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