On the Picket Line

Hundreds of nurses rally, demand contract in New Jersey

By Joanne Kuniansky
August 7, 2023

BELLEVILLE, N.J. — Hundreds of members of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East came out for a spirited rally here July 22 demanding a contract for nurses at Clara Maass Hospital. Union-organized buses came from New York City and around New Jersey carrying health care workers to show their solidarity. 

The 500 nurses here voted last August to join the union and have been fighting for their first contract since. They waved signs saying, “I’m a fan of safe staffing!” and “We are not second-class nurses!” 

Caprice Frazier and Elizabeth Rosa, two members of the union negotiating committee, spoke. Rosa has worked at Clara Maass for eight years. Born and raised in nearby Newark, “I want to make a difference in this community,” she said. “Negotiations is not a word I could use for the meetings with management. They are not willing to negotiate. All we hear is No! No! No! 

“Together we can make management Pay us! Staff us! Respect us!” she said. 

“We are thrown into unsafe situations every day, regularly assigned up to eight patients,” Frazier told the crowd. “We are the lowest-paid nurses in the RWJBarnabas system, with no pension. We have a right to be heard and a right to fight!” 

Aidan Finch, an oncology nurse who has worked at Clara Maass for two years, came out of work to join the rally. “Staffing is terrible,” he said. “I get so anxious about work. I can’t sleep. We have too many patients and many tasks to carry out. I don’t have time to get to know my patients.” 

Kris Wehr, a nurse here for 30 years and a member of the negotiating committee, works in Women’s Health. “Our patients are on Medicaid. We take care of many immigrants, with or without papers,” she said, explaining how important the hospital was to the community. “The hospital wants to keep the power and control. Management doesn’t want us to have any decision-making in staffing.” 

The day before, 1,500 nurses at another RWJBarnabas hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, voted down management’s latest contract offer. Earlier that week they had authorized a strike. Their union, United Steelworkers Local 4-200, says additional staffing is the top issue.