Inside pending strike: What nurses union is doing to prepare its members for walkout

With no future negotiations scheduled, strike at RWJ University Hospital starting Friday morning appears all but certain

At the close of a staff meeting Thursday morning, the leaders of United Steel Workers Local 4-200 told the nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick to be prepared for a strike, which is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. Friday morning, union head Judy Danella said.

Danella stressed that the union has been looking to avoid a strike, but, since no further talks currently are scheduled, a work stoppage appears imminent, she said.

“We told our members to be ready,” Danella said.

For an event that no one really wants, she said.

Judy Danella. (LinkedIn)

“A strike is not good for anybody — it’s not good for the workers. It’s not good for patients, it’s not good for the hospital,” she said. “Someone needs to listen to both sides. You just can’t listen to one side, there are two sides to the story.”

Where it goes from here is unclear.

Danella said the union has been in touch with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration throughout the ordeal, but only in a limited way recently. Danella said the union was hoping for more, considering how much the administration was involved in the recent strike at Rutgers University.

Senior administration officials said they’ve been engaged at the highest levels with both Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital management and union leaders to help resolve outstanding issues — and will continue to be so.

“The administration will remain engaged to help resolve the potential work stoppage,” a spokesperson said.

And, while Danella said the union was hopeful of getting meetings with U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) and state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) later Thursday afternoon, she did not think that would bring immediate relief.

A settlement? The chances of that have been slim all week, Danella said. The union, she said, gave the hospital a proposal earlier in the week — one Danella said was returned with little change from the proposal the rank-and-file members previously turned down.

That’s why the union is preparing its members for a strike.

Danella said the union has explained to striking nurses how to file for unemployment, which they are allowed to do. And she said the union has encouraged the nurses with additional per-diem jobs (which many in the profession have) to consider increasing those hours — even though it would impact their potential unemployment pay.

The union, which has set up various social media channels to discuss the latest information, also told workers about emergency relief funds that members could be eligible for in times of great need.

Not that nurses will suddenly be in financial peril, Danella said.

Because the strike seemingly has been a strong possibility for some time, Danella said the union has been encouraging members for weeks and months to pick up extra shifts and set the additional pay aside to prepare for this potential day.

When they’ll return to the bargaining table — let alone the workplace — is unclear.

Danella said a mediator has been present throughout negotiations — and will continue to be there whenever they resume. She said, however, that the union is not interested in binding arbitration.

“The reason we have refused binding arbitration was because we took our contract to binding arbitration in 2020 and we lost,” she said. “A lot of the members are reluctant to do that again.

“I guess that would be the last resort. But it didn’t help us in 2020, so I don’t know why it would help us now.”