The union representing nearly 500 nurses at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point has filed a complaint against the hospital for the way recent layoffs were handled and intends to file additional grievances.

The New York State Nurses Association has filed unfair labor practice charges against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board and is in contact with a pair of state agencies concerning personnel and patient care issues.

Shore Memorial laid off five nurses a week ago after they declined to accept jobs elsewhere in the hospital and in early December cut 74 nonunion positions when 43 workers accepted buyouts and 31 were let go.

Union representatives said that after 32 union nurses received layoff notices Dec. 9, the hospital pushed for nurses to give up union protection by opening the collective bargaining agreement, limited access on hospital property to employees facing layoffs and did not provide information requested by the union.

The union is talking with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Department of Health and Senior Services about what it believes are labor violations and negative effects on staffing and patient care as a result of the personnel cuts, a union spokesman said.

Darlene Coccaro, a registered nurse and union representative, said there has been a lack of communication on the hospital's part, from the human resources department inefficiently assisting those faced with layoffs to a lack of details on job transfers.

Shore Memorial reduced the number of nurse positions that needed to be cut from 32 to 22 through personnel moves and offered the remaining nurses whose jobs were still in danger the opportunity to move to other open positions within the hospital. Seventeen accepted new positions.

Coccaro said the nurses had no alternatives.

"You had many people who chose to stay there because they had no choice," Coccaro said.

Joan Gavin, vice president of nursing for Shore Memorial, said the hospital had not heard about any action by the union other than grievances filed on behalf of individual employees.

Gavin defended Shore Memorial's decisions over the past month and said the hospital had to shift personnel without the participation of the nurses union after the union declined to open the collective bargaining agreement.

The contract between the hospital and union expires at the end of 2011.

"We followed the terms of the collective bargaining agreement to the letter," Gavin said.

Gavin also said the hospital refused to take into consideration cutting any positions that affect patient care.

"That was our absolute priority," Gavin said.

Another sticking point for the union is the hospital's explanation that personnel cuts were necessary as a result of a decline in Medicare payments and an increase in charity care that the state reimburses but at a fraction of the cost.

Coccaro said Shore Memorial should have anticipated it was not going to receive a significant reimbursement from the state since much of the funds are reserved for hospitals that receive a high number of uninsured patients.

"Of course they are not going to receive the charity that someone is going to receive in Camden, Atlantic City or Newark," Coccaro said.

She also is displeased that Shore Memorial failed to take into consideration the recession but continues with a more than $100 million expansion project.

Gavin said the hospital took measures to reduce expenses by $25 million over the past three years and that the expansion is a necessity to provide proper health services.

"We are trying to balance the future needs of the community," Gavin said.

Contact Christopher Ramirez:

609-272-7147