The strike by more than 300 nurses and other healthcare workers at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey has reached a critical juncture. Working with hospital management and a federal mediator, the Jersey Nurses Economic Security Organization (JNESO) union is conspiring to end the strike before the workers can win their case.
Over the past few days, union officials and St. Michael’s management (which acts on behalf of Prime Healthcare, which owns the hospital) met under the auspices of a federal mediator. At a meeting on June 17, the three parties discussed a new management offer.
In an email to members, JNESO said the offer would be considered by union leaders and a tentative agreement could be finalized as early as Monday June 20. A ratification vote could be held as quickly as two days later on Wednesday, June 22.
The email did not contain any details of management’s latest offer. The reason is clear: Prime Healthcare has no intention of retreating and is determined to force workers to swallow sub-inflation wages, continued understaffing and other coverage concessions. medical.
The company’s previous “last, best and final” offer included a 2.2% raise for each year of the three-year contract. This would lead to a sharp drop in real wages, given the high inflation rate of 8.6% over four decades. The company also proposed a health plan that would have imposed a high deductible and an obligation for workers to persuade out-of-network doctors to treat them on St. Michael’s premises.
Workers resolutely rejected this austerity proposal. But the union’s reaction to this militant stance has not been to step up the fight against Prime Healthcare. On the contrary, JNESO came back with a counter-proposal of a 6% increase in each year of the contract, more than 2.5% below the rate of inflation.
It is now clear that the “compromise” being worked out between management, the mediator and the union will fall somewhere between management’s latest provocative offer and JNESO’s totally inadequate counter-proposal. But St. Michael’s healthcare workers have not suffered throughout the pandemic and have stood on the picket line and sacrificed their pay for nearly a month for a rotten deal that betrays their interests.
If the workers want to win this battle, the rank and file must take over the conduct of the negotiation and the struggle. Workers should elect a rank-and-file strike committee, made up of the most militant and class-conscious workers, to take up this fight.
This committee must immediately organize the workers to prevent the sellout of the struggle and thwart the efforts of the union, the mediator, the management and the media to force the workers into submission.
First, no contract should even be put to a vote until members have received the full document, including all attached letters of agreement, and a full week to review and discuss it. After all, this agreement will determine our terms for the next three years.
Second, workers should not ratify any agreement unless it includes the following requirements:
- A 20% anti-inflation pay rise! No to austerity! Any deal must not only keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of goods, but must include a meaningful increase to restore past cuts and reward workers for the sacrifices they have made during the pandemic.
- Immediate staff hiring and enforceable staffing ratios! Any agreement must ensure safe staffing, an adequate supply of medical equipment, and sufficient breaks and time off for workers to provide patients with the best possible care.
- Comprehensive, high-quality health care paid for by the employer! Healthcare workers, doing vital work on the front lines of the pandemic, must have access to the highest quality free coverage.
The assertion that there is “no money” to meet these basic demands is a lie. Prime Healthcare is a private, for-profit company with 42 hospitals in 14 states. It has revenues of over $3 billion and was named the nation’s “fastest growing hospital system” by Modern health care. Its executives and investors are making huge gains by buying up “struggling hospitals” and cutting costs. Despite its long criminal record of defrauding federal health programs, Congress has awarded Prime Healthcare millions in COVID relief grants and loans.
And this is not the business of a single employer. The federal government, whose mediator demands that health care workers “tighten their belts”, is spending billions of dollars on the war, including $80,000 every minute about nuclear weapons that could wipe out the entire planet.
Across the country and around the world, health care workers are fighting huge battles over the same issues as workers at St. Michael’s. This includes upcoming contract fights in upstate New York, Michigan, California, Oregon and other states. From Germany to Turkey and Sri Lanka, healthcare workers are struggling against austerity, intolerable working conditions, the continuing pandemic and the subordination of public health to private profit.
It is the social force to which St. Michael’s workers must turn for support. It means repudiating JNESO’s bankrupt “strategy” of bringing in Democrats like Larry Hamm, Governor Phil Murphy and Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden and the Democratic Party champion the same for-profit health care system as Republicans. The Democratic president who claimed he would ‘follow the science’ has abandoned any fight against the spread of COVID-19 and fully embraced Trump’s ‘let it go’ policy.
Workers have the power to win this strike. But this requires a radical change in the focus and direction of this struggle. Nurses across the United States took the first step toward forming independent organizations by founding a national steering committee of health care workers, part of the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA -RFC).
If new, much more democratic forms of organization are created, workers can turn this strike into a powerful industrial and political counteroffensive for all health care workers. Giant hospital chains, manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, insurance and medical equipment must be turned into public utilities, under the democratic control of healthcare workers themselves. Only then can we benefit from quality medicine and health care provided to all as a social right.
The World Socialist Web Site Health Worker Newsletter will do anything to help create an independent strike committee at St. Michael’s. Contact us today on the form below to discuss next steps.