by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
The nearly 2,000 nurses striking for the past two weeks at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick have a new ally: Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who twice sought the Democratic Party nomination for president, sent a letter to RWJBarnabas Health CEO Mark Manigan Tuesday urging Manigan to bargain in good faith with the nurses union, United Steel Workers Local 4-200.
The nurses have been striking since Aug. 4. The letter blasts RWJBarnabas for giving its executives millions in annual salary while “somehow unable to provide its nurses fair raises.”
“While RWJBH continues to make millions in revenues, the wages for the nurses at RWJUH are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living,” Sanders wrote, adding, “It is also unconscionable that, while working long hours to provide quality health care, RWJBH nurses are not guaranteed that same quality health care.”
Sanders penned the letter to Manigan and other hospital executives on behalf of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which he chairs.
Contract negotiations between RWJBarnabas executives and the nurses began in April amid a nationwide nursing shortage. The nurses’ demands include higher pay, improved nurse-to-patient ratios, retirement medical benefits, and a cap on medical insurance costs and copays.
Sanders alleged in his letter that the hospital is hiring replacement nurses at $300 an hour and paying for their lodging and travel.
“Let’s be clear: if RWJBH can afford to hire these replacement nurses and pay their executives millions each year, they can afford a contract that keeps nurses safe and provides living wages and good benefits,” Sanders said.
Hospital officials said in a statement last week that the strike has had “significant economic consequences.”
The hospital has spent more than $25 million on replacement nurses since the strike started, according to the statement. An RWJBarnabas spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on Sanders’ letter.