NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Nearly 2,000 nurses went on strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
United Steelworkers Local 4-200, which represents more than 1,700 nurses, said members, after months of failed contract negotiations. They walked off the job at 7 a.m. Friday.
"Today is a day that we all came together in solidarity as a nurse," said Cynthia Mieles.
"We are out here fighting for every single patient, every single unit," said Nancy Lipschutz, one of the dozens of nurses picketing outside the hospital.
Watch Chopper 2 over the strike
The union said members reached a breaking point as staffing ratios became dire.
"We want to have staffing ratios implemented so we have enough staff to keep our patients safe. Right now all we have is guidelines, which are not really enforceable. And we want it to be a policy so at least we could hold somebody accountable," said Lipschutz.
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"We really want to hit home that nursing is in a crisis right now. People are leaving the bedside, and we need to encourage people to stay," said Carol Tanzi. "We need to make sure that the hospital understands where the dollar should go is to recruiting and retaining nursing."
USW4-200 President Judy Danella said they will continue to wait it out until their demands are met, specifically in the number of staff nurses.
"We just want safe staffing. We want it put into our contract so that every day we go in there, we know our staffing is safe," said Danella.
"We wanted more stability that if a nurse, say, in the middle of the shift needs something, that there would be somebody that they could send to help, or that's looked at in the beginning of the day to make sure that the staffing is appropriate," Danella added.
Members said they're also concerned about rising health insurance costs.
Hospital administrators called the strike unnecessary and said the union should be at the negotiating table instead of the picket line.
In a statement, the hospital said in part, "We remain willing and open to continue talking with the goal of averting a strike and reaching a fair and equitable resolution," and added it has accepted the union's demands twice.
The hospital said the union turned down a contract that included higher pay and solutions to staffing concerns, but union leadership said those offers were full of loopholes, which were bad for the nurses.
"But to us, it's not about money. We just want more nurses at the bedsides," said Tanzi.
Nurses said they're stretched thin, which causes burnout for some and is bad for patients.
"We don't get recognized for the hard work we do. Stuff that we deal with like getting peed on, getting all these bodily fluids, 12, 14-hour shifts that turn into 16-hour days, barely any rest break. I'm lucky if I could go to the bathroom. I don't know how many times I've actually sat down and had a proper break for lunch. So I think this is absolutely beautiful," said Harpreet Singh.
Nurses said they hope the strike ends soon, but that they're in it for the long haul.
"It's not easy. But I come from a family and a long line of people. You've got to stand for what you believe in, and if that means it's going to be a long road, then so be it," said Mieles.
Hospital officials said they have an agreement with an outside nursing agency in order to remain fully operational for at least 60 days during the strike.
This is the first time nurses at the hospital have gone on strike since 2006.
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