SOMERS POINT — “We need a contract, honk if you care,” Iliana Arroyo shouted from the sidewalk along Shore Road on Saturday morning.
For two hours, drivers heeded the call and more than 160 registered nurses and their supporters gathered in front of Shore Medical Center for a rally and picket for a new contract.
The 320 registered nurses who work at Shore and are part of the local New York State Nurses Association union have been negotiating with management at the hospital since the fall.
The union contract expired Dec. 31, and Shore Nurses Union Co-President Dottie Rudert said the parties have not been able to agree on many items, including the responsibilities of the nurses on duty and health benefits.
“Who deserves decent health care more than nurses?” she said, explaining that Shore was proposing changes that would increase employee contributions, limit access and increase co-pays.
Brian Cahill, spokesman for Shore Medical Center, said the hospital has the highest regard and respect for its nurses.
“We will continue to negotiate with the union in good faith to reach an agreement that serves the interest of the medical center, our patients and our outstanding nurses,” Cahill said.
Rudert said outsourcing of staff like housekeeping and orderlies has put an extra burden on the nurses, and that they are being asked to take on those duties in addition to their nursing obligations.
“We’re having to pick up the slack,” Rudert said. “And it’s all for the bottom line, it’s all for the money.”
Cahill said more than 90% of the more than 1,000 people who work at Shore are employed by the hospital.
Rudert said if contract negotiations continue to stall, membership of the union will vote on whether to strike. She said that can happen “very soon.”
The New York State Nurses Association represents more than 42,000 members.