Little movement — no talks scheduled — as nurses strike at RWJUH enters 4th week

Union head Danella: ‘At this point, it is what it is. I don’t know which side is going to give in first’

The strike by the nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick enters its fourth week Monday morning. So far, the only thing the two sides have been able to agree on is this: their last face-to-face meeting, on Aug. 16, produced nothing of substance.

Judy Danella, the leader of the nurses for their union, United Steel Workers Local 4-200, recalled the meeting this way.

“We were there for six or eight hours, but we really had no discussion with them, nothing happened,” she said. “We hope the mediator brings us back to the table and we hope to sit and have a discussion with the hospital, but there’s no new negotiation set.”

Wendy Gottsegen, a spokesperson for RWJUH, said they are waiting for the union to make the next move.

“As of (Friday), we have not been notified of an upcoming mediation session with the union,” she said. “Both parties last met Aug. 16 for approximately seven hours with the assistance of two federal mediators. Unfortunately, there was no progress and no further dates for negotiations have been scheduled by the mediators.”

There also appears to be limited interest from the outside world.

While a recent strike by the teachers at Rutgers University drew huge interest from Gov. Phil Murphy (who injected his office into the talks) and extensive media coverage, this strike — which began July 31 — has made little dent in the public consciousness.

Danella noted the area U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) and a few other elected officials have come to see the strikers, but Danella said the Governor’s Office has “remained neutral.”

And, while she was contacted by ROI-NJ for this story, Danella said she is hoping to make more outreach to the media.

“I think we’re going to try to get more of the press involved,” she said. “We’ve had rallies, we’ve had a candlelight vigil, we’ve had a lot — but not much coverage from the press.”

The strike began July 31, following a failure to ratify a new contract that included increased wages and improved staffing. Ten days prior to the strike, an agreement that was approved by union leadership was voted down by the rank-and-file workers by a substantial margin.

The hospital, which is part of RWJBarnabas Health, has said previously that its wage proposal would pay workers 14% more than the rates at similar New Jersey hospitals.

The hospital has brought in hundreds of replacement nurses — at a multimillion-dollar cost. They are workers Danella feels are getting what the striking nurses want.

“They have replacement workers in there who have decent staffing, better pay,” she said. “Is that the way to prove a point?

“The nurses want to be back to work. They want to be working. We just keep getting told that the replacement workers are doing a great job.”

Gottsegen said patient care comes first.

“As always, our top priority is to our patients,” she said. “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.”

Danella said she feels the hospital is ready to hold out for the long haul. The union appears to be willing to do so, too.

“We’re still on the picket line — we’re still out here,” she said. “Even if we were to go to the table, it probably wouldn’t get us back for another two or three weeks.

“At this point, it is what it is. I don’t know which side is going to give in first.”