New Brunswick: After Nearly 4 Months, Robert Wood Johnson U. Hospital And Nurses Reach Tentative Agreement


Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital announced a tentatively new collective bargaining agreement with the United Steel Workers 4-200, which represents the 1,700 nurses who went on strike Aug. 4.

“A memorandum of agreement was signed by both parties and will be presented over the next several days to union members through informational meetings as part of the ratification process,” said Wendy Gottsegen, a hospital spokeswoman, in a statement. “We encourage our nurses to attend these meetings and vote at the ratification sessions. The resolution reflects our shared goals of providing the highest-quality patient care and creating a safe and supportive working environment for our nurses.”

For months, the union members went without paychecks and benefits, which the hospital had cut off in September. The two sides were at a standstill, and for a time, it was unclear how they would find a path forward.

The strike drew national attention, as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) visited Rutgers University in October to hold a committee hearing on the labor dispute and hospital staffing guidelines. At the event. Sanders expressed support for the nurses and the ratios they sought while lambasting hospital leaders for not appearing.

The agreement comes after months of bitter negotiations, with the nurses demanding better pay, benefits — and above all — enforceable nurse-to-patient ratios.

The hospital — ranked the fifth best in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report — had maintained that strict staffing ratios would not allow it the necessary flexibility during times of high patient volume.

But many nurses said they were working in untenable conditions, often forced to juggle five or six patients during a given shift, which they said impacted the patients’ well-being as well as the nurses’ ability to provide adequate care.

During negotiations, the hospital, part of the RWJBarnabas Health network, said it had offered nurses more pay and enhanced staffing guidelines — though without firm ratios. One of the proposals included a $20-an-hour bonus for nurses if a unit fell below certain staffing guidelines.

The nurses, however, rejected the offer because it still would have left units short-staffed and bonuses would not have been paid to workers if a fellow nurse called out sick, according to Danella. She had said that a counterproposal sought to remove the calling-out sick clause, but the hospital rejected it.

The labor dispute grew increasingly bitter as the hospital filed a restraining order against the nurses over noise from picketing on the streets outside the facility. And striking nurses held evening vigils outside the homes of hospital executives, loudly chanting their demands.

It remains unclear when the nurses will return to work at the 620-bed New Brunswick hospital.

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