Nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) went on an unfair labor practices strike on Friday, Aug. 4 — and have remained on the picket lines as their representatives from United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4-200 contend that management is refusing to negotiate on key issues.

USW LOCAL 4-200 represents over 1,700 nurses at RWJUH in New Brunswick. Their demands are for the hospital to set safer staffing ratios on floors, increase salaries, and freeze workers’ insurance premiums.

“Our members remain deeply committed to our patients,” Local 4-200 President Judy Danella said in a statement. “However, we must address urgent concerns, like staffing. We need enough nurses on each shift, on each floor, so we can devote more time to each patient and keep ourselves safe on the job.”

Nurses complain that they are often working understaffed and that, on average, they find themselves taking care of six patients per shift in a hospital that prides itself on being able to treat the state’s sickest patients.

This is the first time USW LOCAL 4-200 nurses have gone out on strike since 2006. The union began negotiations with hospital management for a new contract in April. After their contract expired on June 30, it was extended through July 21. But since then, the standstill in negotiations led to a July 24 notification that workers were ready to strike.

RWJUH is one of the 12 hospitals that make up RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s largest healthcare provider. The Associated Press noted that the hospital has contracted with an outside firm to have replacement nursing staff cover the assignments of striking nurses while labor protests continue.

The hospital also acknowledged on Aug. 8 that it had enlisted the aid of 1,000 nurses from across the country to cover for its striking employees: “Simply put, if we do not have enough nurses, we cannot deliver the complex, high acuity care that our institution is known for. We cannot save lives,” said Dr. Anthony Altobelli III, the associate chief medical officer, in a video statement.

RWJUH remains open and continues to accept patients during the nursing strike.

Hospital spokesperson Wendy Gottsegen said in a statement: “Even after we extended a new offer on Wednesday that would have further addressed their staffing concerns, it was met with silence. We are awaiting a response from the union and are questioning why we are in this position instead of at the table, negotiating.”

USW LOCAL 4-200, though, said it wants to continue bargaining but wants its main concerns to be dealt with in a fair manner.

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