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Striking healthcare workers in Newark, N.J. reject management’s austerity proposal

By on June 11, 2022 0
Picket line at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey

On Thursday night, striking healthcare workers at Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey, overwhelmingly rejected a final offer from management that would have imposed harsh austerity on hospital staff who have made great sacrifices throughout the pandemic. The rejection is a sign of growing worker militancy and anger against the profit-driven healthcare system.

Saint Michael Medical Center is owned by California-based Prime Healthcare. Hospital workers have been on strike since May 23 over low wages, substandard health benefits, understaffing and other grievances. The company’s “last, best and last offer” this week was nothing short of an open declaration of war on workers’ living standards.

While the inflation rate hit a 40-year high of 8.6%, Prime offered workers annual raises of just 2.2% during the proposed three-year contract. This offer would represent a drop in the workers’ real wages. Additionally, the company offered a health insurance plan with a huge deductible. The plan would also require workers to arrange for out-of-network doctors to treat them on Saint Michael’s premises.

Prime’s offer was met with justified disgust and anger by healthcare workers.

“None of us were surprised, but we were all disgusted by their offer,” said one striker. World Socialist website. “They offered about a quarter of what we were asking for in retirement. So we’ll be back on the picket line tomorrow morning. The workers called the offer disrespectful and pointed to the gap between the terms offered by Prime and the value of their work. “People were so disgusted you could tell it wasn’t going to pass,” the worker said.

Prime’s offer makes it clear that the company is determined to impose austerity on workers. But workers at Saint Michael’s Medical Center are also determined not to accept that. However, to carry out their struggle successfully, the workers cannot count on the union.

Saint Michael workers are members of the Jersey Nurses Economic Security Organization (JNESO). Trying to present itself as an activist, the union called the company’s offer “crappy” in a Facebook post.

But his own demand for a 6% raise each year would also amount to austerity for workers, who have risked their health and worked long hours during the pandemic. Additionally, JNESO does not pay strike pay to workers, nor has it called on its members at other hospitals (or any other healthcare workers) to support the Newark strike. The union tries to wear down the workers and set them up for defeat.

JNESO is also trying to subordinate the strikers to the Democratic Party. At a union-sponsored public rally on Monday, June 6, New Jersey Assemblyman and Deputy Majority Leader Thomas P. Giblin appeared. Giblin has been a Democratic Party operative since 1977 and has held various elected and influential positions within the party. He is also the commercial director of the International Union of Operating Engineers, a major construction industry union of which JNESO is a district council. In 2006, federal officials, including US Department of Labor investigators, raided Giblin’s office and seized documents and data in an undisclosed investigation.

JNESO also backed the re-election of Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, a multi-millionaire and former Goldman Sachs executive, last year. Murphy has presided over more than 33,831 pandemic-related deaths in New Jersey, according to figures compiled by Worldometer. The state has the seventh highest number of pandemic-related deaths per million population in the country. This horrific death toll — in addition to the roughly 600,000 people now suffering from Long COVID in New Jersey — was entirely preventable. It was a direct result of the Democratic Party’s conscious prioritization of the values ​​of corporate actions over human life.

It is also the Democratic Party that bears the primary responsibility for the catastrophic state of health care and hospitals, including the many hospital closures in Newark, one of the poorest major cities in the country. Throughout the pandemic, supplies of personal protective equipment have been chronically insufficient and workers have been forced to purchase or improvise their own supplies. Understaffing across the country has fostered overwork and extraordinary levels of burnout among nurses, 90% of whom are considering leaving the profession. In addition to physical fatigue, nurses had to deal with the emotional trauma resulting from successive waves of massive infections and deaths.

In the brave fight of Newark healthcare workers, there is much more at stake than just a fight against Prime for better working and living conditions. Workers face the stark reality of a health care system in which everything, including the lives of workers and patients and even public health itself, is subordinated to the accumulation of profits for the corporate elite and financial. Now the very companies that reaped record profits during the pandemic are now seeking to impose austerity on workers who sacrificed their lives and health to save patients.

Saint Michael’s health care workers must not allow their struggle to be isolated and defeated by the union. There is a powerful base to expand the strike by appealing to the broadest possible support of the working class. Such a move would find powerful support within the working class, which has begun to launch a counter-offensive against the rapidly rising cost of living, austerity and war.

Nurses picketing at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey

In New York, several workers expressed their support for the Newark strike. “This action shows courage, principle and a will to fight,” said Lisa, a nurse in New York, at the World Socialist Website. “Hospital company minions always say they don’t have money for working staff. There are big bonuses for CEOs, as we all work to the bone.

“Solidarity with the heroic health care workers of Saint Michael in their fight against understaffing, overwork and a meager 2% increase in the midst of a historic and deadly pandemic!” said Joshua H, an educator in New York State. “You sacrifice so much for the sake of others, and a for-profit healthcare system wants to take even more. Together you can win!

A powerful international movement of health workers is emerging. In recent weeks, strikes or demonstrations have taken place in Florida, Minnesota and California. New struggles loom on the horizon for health care workers in Michigan, New York and Washington. This movement is by no means limited to the United States. Healthcare workers in France, the UK, Turkey, Spain and Germany have also been on strike in recent weeks, and healthcare workers in Sri Lanka have been at the forefront of social protests from mass against the Sri Lankan government.

In a recent statement on this global health worker movement, the WSWS noted: “The global health worker movement is part of a growing working class movement against social inequality, austerity and war. . A central goal of this movement must be the struggle to profit from medicine and the establishment of a socialist system, democratically controlled by health care workers and committed to providing high quality medical care as a basic social right. for everyone.

Such a fight requires new independent organizations. It cannot succeed if it is confined within the unions or subordinated to the capitalist Democratic Party. Healthcare workers in the United States have established a steering committee to coordinate the creation of grassroots committees in healthcare facilities across the country.

We urge healthcare workers at Saint Michael’s Medical Center to contact us to share their experiences with the WSWS Bulletin for Healthcare Workers and discuss the creation of an independent rank-and-file committee.