Southern Ocean Medical Center Nurses and Hospital Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

Dec 12, 2018

The nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center got an early Christmas present when it was announced on Dec. 6 that their union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5138, and their employer, Hackensack Meridian Health, had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract after months of contentious negotiation.

“These were extremely difficult negotiations, especially with the inclusion of a union decertification action supported by management at SOMC,” said Sue Kaszuba, vice president of Local 5138. “Yet we persisted, and in the end showed that we are able to withstand even the greatest threat of our solidarity.”

Approximately 300 RN’s at SOMC had been working without a contract since Aug. 1, as had about 1,100 nurses at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, an HMH flagship hospital. The Jersey Shore nurses also reached a tentative agreement with HMH last week.

“Hackensack Meridian maintained a corporate tone throughout these negotiations attempting to erode workers’ rights rather than focusing on protecting patient and worker safety,” Kendra McCann, HPAE Local 5058 president, said of the situation at JSUMC. “HPAE members never lost sight of fighting to stand up for having a voice in protecting the rights of patients and workers.

“Hackensack Meridian was relentless in attacking our previously hard-fought contractual gains. But we were successful in defeating more than two dozen management proposed cutbacks in each facility, as well as making significant gains for the nurses in both hospitals. We stood strong and worked together every step of the way.”

The contract battle was especially hard-fought at SOMC because of the aforementioned decertification battle. If HPAE Local 5138 had been decertified – in other words, voted out by SOMC nurses – it would have been a significant victory for HMH. But in November a huge majority of SOMC nurses voted to remain members of the union. It isn’t surprising that HMH and its nurses reached a tentative agreement shortly after the decertification effort went down in flames – 85 percent of the 87 percent of SOMC nurses who came out to vote in the decertification election supported the union. The union wasn’t going anywhere.

Details of the contract haven’t been released pending the ratification vote of both HPAE locals on Dec. 13. But it appears the union won on an issue that HMH had been particularly obstinate about. The health care corporation had wanted the two locals to have their contracts expire on different dates. The union wanted to keep the two contracts on the same timeline, the better to once again combine the efforts of its two locals the next time contract negotiations roll around.

“We are pleased to announce that Southern Ocean Medical Center and HPAE Local 5138 have reached tentative agreement on a new successor labor contract for approximately 290 registered nurses,” read a HMH statement. “The bargaining committees have worked hard for approximately six months to negotiate contract language that provides nurses with sustainable, fair and market-competitive wages and benefits.

“The new agreement also will enable SOMC to continue to deliver safe, high quality care for patients and provide a positive work environment to help attract and retain team members. The contract also accounts for the changes happening in healthcare and within our organization.” 

Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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