New Jersey hospital to suspend healthcare benefits from striking nurses

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., said it plans to temporarily cut off healthcare benefits, effective Sept. 1, for striking workers who would no longer be eligible since they are no longer working in the hospital. 

Hospital spokesperson Wendy Gottsegen described the move as unfortunate.

"We have said all along that no one benefits from a strike — least of all our nurses. We hope the union considers the impact a prolonged strike is having on our nurses and their families," Ms. Gottsegen said in an Aug. 28 news release shared with Becker's. "As of Sept. 1, RWJUH nurses must pay for their health benefits through COBRA. This hardship, in addition to the loss of wages throughout the strike, is very unfortunate and has been openly communicated to the union and the striking nurses since prior to the walkout on Aug. 4."

The ongoing strike involves the United Steelworkers Local 4-200, which represents about 1,700 nurses at the facility.

Union members voted to authorize a strike in July. The union and hospital have been negotiating a new agreement for months, with the last bargaining session occurring Aug. 16.

During negotiations, the union has said it seeks a contract that provides safe staffing standards, living wages and quality, affordable healthcare.

Local 4-200 President Judy Danella, RN, said in a previous union release, "Our members remain deeply committed to our patients. 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."

Several nurses told TAPinto New Brunswick last week that they began preparing for the current situation ahead of the strike, taking overtime shifts and saving as much money as possible. Others told the publication they are taking part-time jobs or temporary employment elsewhere in the nursing field or adjacent roles.

"I think it's important that you [remember] you might not get the job you want to do at that moment, but people have to do what they have to do to get it done," Jessica Newcomb, RN, told TAPinto New Brunswick.

Meanwhile, the hospital has contracted with an agency to hire replacement nurses during the strike. 

"As always, our top priority is to our patients. RWJUH is open, fully operational and completely staffed, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to deliver the highest quality and always-safe patient care," Ms. Gottsegen said.

As of Aug. 28, no further dates for negotiations were scheduled by mediators.

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