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Union blocks strike by 800 New Jersey nurses, pushes sellout contract

Striking nurses during their 31-day strike in 2022 at St. Michael’s hospital in Newark, New Jersey [Photo: JNESO]

On Saturday, Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), a healthcare union in New Jersey, announced a “historic tentative agreement” for approximately 800 nurses and other workers at Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Union officials kept the workers on the job without a contract for more than a week despite a strike authorization vote of more than 90 percent by rank-and-file workers. Workers will not be able to review the tentative agreement until the day of the vote, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12.

These actions are flagrant violations of workers’ democratic rights. After blocking strike action, HPAE officials are attempting to pressure the nurses into ratifying a contract that they have not had time to study. In doing so, the HPAE leadership is collaborating with administrators from Hackensack Meridian Health, the network that operates Palisades Medical Center, which after a series of mergers is now the largest health care provider in New Jersey.

Nurses should reject the tentative agreement on principle and organize an independent rank-and-file committee immediately to prepare strike action. The workers’ central demands—for safe staffing levels—can only be attained through an intransigent struggle against the profit-driven healthcare system and the Democrats, Republicans and trade union bureaucrats who defend it.

The contract for the Palisades nurses expired on June 1. On the same day, contracts expired for 1,500 nurses at Cooper University Health Care in Camden and 800 nurses at Englewood Hospital in Englewood. Nurses at all three hospitals are members of HPAE. They all cast nearly unanimous votes to authorize a strike for safe staffing.

Safe staffing is essential to providing patients with the best care and to maintaining reasonable workloads for nurses. Understaffing, which has been the main reason for the current international wave of healthcare strikes, has been associated with increased risk of medication errors, worse patient outcomes, overwork and burnout.

Hours before the contracts expired, HPAE announced tentative agreements with Cooper University Health Care and Englewood Hospital. The union thus left the nurses at Palisades isolated and in a weaker position. Instead of submitting 10 days’ strike notice to Palisades management, HPAE continued negotiating and prevented the strike that the workers had authorized.

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