The President's Column: We’re all in

September 6, 2023

6653.jpegI hope you have had a wonderful summer and had a chance to get some rest and relaxation. I know it’s been a hot one. But while the temperature outside may begin to cool down soon, 1199ers are turning up the heat.

Let me tell you why. A hospital in Belleville, New Jersey—a suburb of New York— has decided to pick a fight with its 540 nurses because they voted to join 1199SEIU. The nurses are standing firm and all of us need to have their backs. It’s a fight all of us are going to win, working together. That’s the meaning of the word “union.”

Clara Maass Medical Center is owned by RWJBarnabas Health, a mammoth healthcare conglomerate and New Jersey’s largest private employer. You know what they say about “the bigger they are,” right? The harder they fall. Thousands of members from across New York State boarded buses to Belleville, NJ on July 22, for a rally and family fun day on the hospital’s doorstep. And we may well do it again.

Here’s the story. Just like all the other frontline healthcare workers in every sector throughout the country during the pandemic, the nurses at Clara Maass put their lives on the line to give the best possible care to their patients. It wasn’t so long ago, that they were cheered as “healthcare heroes” coming off shifts to applause and the clamor of pots and pans. But hospital management seemed to forget all that when, a year ago, the nurses joined together to vote for union representation.

The employer turned hostile as employers have done throughout the ages whenever they see employees coming together to fight for a voice on the job, a wage commensurate with their service, and decent benefits to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy and secure. This past spring, the hospital terminated a beloved nurse and union activist with 25 years of experience. When eight RNs tried to deliver a petition from physicians, nurses and other caregivers protesting the firing, management suspended them (the Union has filed a federal Unfair Labor Practice charge).

Meanwhile, at the negotiating table, management has refused to bargain a fair contract. Less than an hour away, in New York City, tens of thousands of 1199SEIU nurses and other healthcare workers just won raises of 7, 6, and 5 percent over the next three years—in addition to maintaining their world-class benefits. Clara Maass, however, is offering just three percent to its most senior nurses—and inferior benefits. The Clara Maass nurses—our Union family—want training and education resources; professional practices and safe staffing committees; and retroactive pay to 2022 when the RWJBarnabas corporation gave raises to employees at its other facilities. These are reasonable demands that a wealthy corporation could easily meet—if it were acting in good faith.

It will be a major challenge for our Union, but I know we are up to it. Until now, 1199SEIU in New Jersey has been a nursing home union. The Belleville nurses are leading the way to our becoming a hospital union in the state as well, to uplift the lives out countless more caregivers and patients. But they cannot do it on their own.

How long and how difficult this fight is going to be is entirely up to management. At press time, the bosses were still digging in their heels. But we are in it to win it, and we know we will with all of your help. This is not an RN fight. This is not a New Organizing fight. This is not a New Jersey fight. This is an all-union 1199SEIU fight. Put on your marching shoes because we are going to be calling on you until this is done. Ain’t no stopping us now!