Southern Ocean Medical Center Nurses Union Suffers Setback

Oct 24, 2018

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Last week it was reported that Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5138, the union that represents almost 300 nurses at Manahawkin’s Southern Ocean Medical Center, had scored a victory when the National Labor Relations Board threw out a petition calling for a decertification election at the hospital.

A nurse had collected signatures asking for the vote; if more than 50 percent of the nurses at the hospital voted to dump the union, that would make SOMC a non-union shop. HPAE would no longer have the authority to negotiate for the nurses in their current contract standoff with the hospital’s parent company, Hackensack Meridian Health. Instead, individual nurses would have to negotiate their own work contracts, losing the power of numbers a union provides. On the other hand, nurses would no longer have to pay union dues.

But for the NLRB to order a decertification election, the petition needed the signatures of at least 30 percent of the hospital’s nurses. The NLRB determined the filed petition did not have enough signatures to reach the 30-percent mark and dismissed the petition, a big win for the union.

A representative of Hackensack Meridian Health said the petition had fallen short by just a few signatures, so the anti-union nurses apparently collected those few more signatures and submitted a new petition to the NLRB. The HPAE announced the new petition had been filed last Thursday.

Now the NLRB will once again confirm the legitimacy of the signatures and count them up to see if the 30-percent hurdle has been crossed. If it has, an election – with a secret vote – will be ordered by the NLRB, usually to take place within 60 days.

HPAE remains confident it will survive such an election, saying the majority of SOMC nurses support the union.

“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, RN, an elected officer of Local 5138. “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.”

The union was notified of the new petition on the very same day it resumed bargaining with Hackensack Meridian Health, giving the corporation leverage in the negotiations (the idea being to settle for what HMH is offering now or face the possibility of getting nothing in the end).

HMH, with its 16 Garden State hospitals, 4,520 beds, 33,000 employees and 6,500 staff physicians as well as over 200 ambulatory centers, fitness centers and skilled nursing facilities, is the largest healthcare system in New Jersey. HPAE has accused the medical giant of being the true force behind the petition. The union has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the NLRB against the company, alleging HMH has illegally coerced its nurses and unlawfully led the decertification effort.

The SOMC nurses, along with 900 healthcare professionals at Palisades Medical Center and 1,100 nurses at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, two other HMH hospitals, have been working without a contract since the end of July. —R.M.

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