Bringing the HeatSeptember 5, 2023
1199 brought its fighting force to NJ to turn up the temperature at the table.
Clara Maass Medical Center is named after a 19th century nurse who travelled the world providing medical aid to soldiers. Influenced by Florence Nightingale, she volun- teered for medical experiments to study yellow fever, and died before she was 30.
Nearly 125 years later, the 540 RNs at RWJBarnabas’ Clara Maass Hospital in Belleville, Essex County, New Jersey are still fiercely devoted to their patients. But management appears to be forgetting about the crucial role nurses play in delivering quality care, and ignoring the legacy of the hospital’s namesake—the original Clara Maass.
On July 22, thousands of members boarded busses from New York City, Westchester and Long Island to school management in what it means to be part of 1199. Members amplified the voices of Clara Maass RNs fighting for a fair contract and demonstrated their collective strength with a march and rally held outside the hospital.
Roughly 540 Clara Maass RNs voted to unionize with 1199SEIU last year. Talks at the bargaining table have been unproductive, how- ever, with management refusing nurses’ demands for greater input on patient care and staffing. When nurses proposed the creation of a labor-management committee as a forum to address workplace issues, Clara Maass said they did not need one because management knew what was best for the hospi- tal—thereby denying the value of nurses' professional experience in providing frontline care.
Management has also rejected proposals to establish basic quality-of-life benefits for nurses to care for their children and promote their own professional development, including 1199’s Child Care Fund and Training and Education Fund, which require minimal investment by the employer.
Barbara Moody, an RN Delegate at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Forest Hills, Queens, spoke to the rally-goers about the value of 1199’s Child Care Fund. “My son who is now 15 years old, was able to go to summer camp from kindergarten until now,” she said. The Union’s Job Security Fund has also made a big difference in Moody’s life. “Back in 2009, the hospital where I worked closed six months after I started,” she said. “I had only been an 1199 member for six months. But they called me up and told me they would find me a new job. Sure enough, I got a call for a job interview at Long Island Jewish and I have been there ever since.”
Moody is one of tens of thousands of 1199 RNs just a few miles away from Clara Maass
in New York City—members of 1199SEIU and NYSNA—who won collective bargaining agreements that provide annual wage increases of 18 percent over the next three years, while maintaining their far superior benefits and labor-management partnership. This historic contract win has increased the already signif- icant disparities between RN jobs in NJ and NY and created further urgency to close this gap to retain the pool of nurses working in the Garden State.
At the July rally, Clara Maass nurses talked about how and why they are pressing for greater parity with NY nurses.
Caprice Frazier, a Float Pool Nurse, started at Clara Maass at the height of the pandemic in April 2020. “It was one of the scariest times to be going into healthcare,” she said. “But we got through it by standing together. We risked our lives to serve this community and the outpour- ing of love and support from our community got us through some of our toughest days. But we don’t get the same support from RWJBarna- bas and upper management at Clara.”
Another bargaining committee member, Elizabeth Rosa, asked the crowd, “Just because our community is under resourced, why should that mean that RWJBarnabas can get away with under resourcing this hospital?” Born and raised in nearby Newark, Rosa has resisted pressure to leave the hospital in search of better pay and working conditions elsewhere. Instead, she is committed to forcing management to invest in improving staffing levels and making her hospital a great one. “I wanted to be one of those people that can make a change in my own community,” she said.