Southern Ocean Medical Center Nurses Sign Contract and Avoid Strike

Aug 04, 2017

If you were awaiting an elective procedure at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin or the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, and were starting to get nervous and considering rescheduling because of the news of a potential nurses strike at the two Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals, you can relax – at least as much as anybody checking into a hospital possibly can.

On Aug. 1, the day after the previous contract for the nearly 1,500 nurses at the two hospitals had expired, negotiating committees representing the nurses and Hackensack Meridian Health representatives reached agreement on a new one-year contract. The next day  the nurses themselves, members of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees Locals 5138 (SOMC) and 5058 (JSUMC), ratified the agreement.

The negotiations between HPAE, New Jersey’s largest healthcare union with some 13,000 members in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Hackensack Meridian Health, the state’s second-largest hospital system, with 13 hospitals in all as well as more than 200 ambulatory centers, fitness and wellness centers, rehab centers and skilled nursing centers, had been tough.

The two sides first sat down at the table on June 21. On July 24 it was announced the nurses had authorized their bargaining committees to give Hackensack Meridian Health 10 days’ warning of a strike or “another form of concerted activity.” The negotiating committees, buoyed by the addition of a federal mediator at the table later that week, never formally delivered the notice of intent to strike, but negotiations remained stalled past the original July 31 deadline. The nurses’ union, however, continued to sit at the table the next day and finally reached agreement.

“These negotiations were difficult and challenging for our nursing staff,” said Sally Fessler, president of HPAE Local 5138 at SOMC. “Our employer initially proposed to undo parts of our contract that have been long established and have protected nurses’ rights in our hospitals. As nurses, we could not walk away from these negotiations without maintaining our rights and our benefits, so we can continue to be advocates for our patients and our profession.”

The new contract, Fessler said, contains wage increases of 2.5 percent, maintains health insurance coverage with no increase in premiums for the nurses and “gained protections for new nurses in the float pool and enhanced orientation programs so nurses can be more confident in delivering safe care for their patients on every unit.”  —R.M.

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