Health care workers at Newark hospital strike, citing burnout during COVID pandemic
Hundreds of health care workers hit the picket line in Newark on Monday. They are protesting what they say is poor working conditions and worker burnout.
Members of JNESO - a union representing about 350 nurses and techs at St. Michaels Medical Center - voluntarily walked off their jobs. They are demanding a new and fair contract.
“During COVID, these people were there. They worked very hard on the front line taking care of patients in the hospital, and we would still take care of patients in the hospital,” says Elfrieda Johnson, a staff nurse and the local president of JNESO.
Johnson says after putting patients' lives above their own for more than two years, the health care workers need more from their employer. Their current contract expired on May 4 and they want a new one with salaries comparable to other hospital workers, better health care coverage and more help on the frontline. Ongoing staff shortages are stretching those who remained on the job thin, they say it is even forcing a practice called "floating" which assigns nurses where they are needed, but not necessarily where they are trained.
“When you remove me from my area I’m supposed to work in and work me in an area I’m unfamiliar with, it’s a little dangerous,” says Johnson.
"There is a nursing shortage and getting them to the bedside, I mean that’s all these folks want to do,” says Doug Placa, executive director of JNESO District Council 1.
St. Michael’s administrators say they can't comment on the ongoing contract negotiations or specific demands. But a spokesperson for the hospital says they are hopeful an agreement will be reached soon. He also wants to ensure patients and their families that the hospital is open and operating as safely as it has been for over 150 years.
“The hospital remains opened and fully functional. We have qualified staff we brought in starting yesterday, and they are doing a fantastic job,” says hospital spokesperson Bruno Tedeschi.
The union says the workers are planning on picketing for a long as it takes for them to get a fair contract. They say that they do not get paid while they are not working. Contract negotiations are expected to resume Tuesday afternoon.