New Jersey hospital, union clash over suspension of 9 nurses

Members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East picketed May 16 at RWJBarnabas Health's Clara Maass Hospital in Belleville, N.J., after the suspension of nine nurses. 

The union represents about 500 registered nurses at Clara Maass, who voted to join 1199SEIU last summer. After months of negotiations, the hospital and union have not reached a contract to address issues such as pay and staffing, according to an 1199SEIU news release. Clara Maass nurses voted to picket on May 16 amid unresolved contract issues and what they say is "the mistreatment of union members who stood up against unfair discipline."

According to the union, Clara Maass suspended nine nurses who attempted to deliver a petition on April 26 signed by 170 colleagues in support of another nurse who was suspended "without just cause for an incident prompted by the acute staffing shortage at the hospital." 1199SEIU contends the nurse followed hospital procedures and acted to protect the safety of her patient and herself. However, a Clara Maass spokesperson disputed that claim. 

"The initial disciplinary action of a nurse at the hospital stemmed from their actions with regard to patient care that not only violated hospital protocols, it was also so egregious that it likely would have violated protocols of care at any hospital," the hospital spokesperson said in a statement shared with Becker's. "In fact, the action and subsequent discipline was reviewed and sanctioned by the employee's peers through a standard peer review process that the union was fully aware of and participated in."

The nine nurses are back at work, and the nurse who 170 other nurses and physicians signed the petition in support of was fired May 15 after joining the group to deliver the petition, a union spokesperson told Becker's.

Clara Maass "fired a nurse with 25 years of experience for attempting to deliver a petition to her manager. She had clocked out for the day and was accompanied by a handful of colleagues in support," a statement from the union says. 

1199SEIU said the petition the nurses tried to deliver was signed by 170 healthcare professionals who work at the hospital and sought reconsideration of the hospital's decision to suspend the nurse for two weeks "after she safely … rendered critical care to one of the hospital's patients who was in dire need of an IV line to enable the patient to receive medication." 

The union said it has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board related to the situation.

A hospital spokesperson said, "RWJBarnabas always has been and always will be a union-friendly organization that values our nurses, their hard work and their dedication to our patients." The hospital spokesperson called the statements distributed by the union about employee suspensions as "factually inaccurate and disingenuous." 

The hospital spokesperson also said that other employees were disciplined "after a large group of individuals, including CMMC nursing staff and an unauthorized non-employee representative, surrounded an experienced nursing director on a patient unit and in front of patient rooms to challenge the suspension of the individual involved in the original patient issue. The manager felt so intimidated and threatened for their personal safety that the director filed a formal complaint. Such behavior cannot and will not be tolerated and will be met with swift and decisive action."

Regarding negotiations with the union, the hospital spokesperson said the hospital recognizes nurses' right to organize and are committed to working in good faith during negotiations. 

"Because we value our nurses, their hard work, and their dedication to our patients, we immediately offered the union a market adjustment wage increase at the very first negotiations session," the hospital spokesperson said. "The union rejected that offer. We hope the union will reconsider our offer to increase nurses' pay so these increases can go into effect as soon as possible."

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