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Long-term care nurses in New Jersey triumph in union win

For two decades, Lisa Tshefu found joy in her work at The Harborage, a 245-bed long-term nursing care facility in North Bergen, N.J. For Tshefu, it was more than a job; it was a tight-knit family. However, the dynamics shifted in 2020 when Complete Care took over.

Harborage nurses
Harborage nurses Yasmine Peralta, Veronica Mentor, and Mary Middleton have voted to join HPAE.

Tshefu and her fellow nurses felt the impact of insufficient staffing and a lack of respect from the new employer, and it sparked a need for change; they ultimately decided to organize and form a union. In December 2023, nearly 50 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses at Harborage voted to join Health Professionals and Allied Employees/AFT.

Now the nurses have a voice in their workplace to make positive changes through collective action, says HPAE President Debbie White. “We now urge the employer to negotiate a contract with the staffing standards that these nurses need so they can safely care for their patients,” says White, who is also an AFT vice president.

These nurses join over 120 other workers at Harborage, including certified nursing assistants, housekeepers and dietary staff, who are already members of HPAE, Local 5097.

Mary Middleton, a veteran nurse who has worked at Harborage for more than 30 years, says the victory will help get more nurses in the facility, which will help with working conditions and in retaining staff, which will help nurses do a better job caring for their patients. “The patients count on us,” she says. “This is their home.”

The excitement reverberated among many of the nurses, with Nelly Rodriguez looking forward to addressing workplace issues like safety and staffing levels through negotiations. Yasmine Peralta echoed that sentiment and highlighted the transformative power of the union in giving workers a say in solving long-standing problems.

For Edith Portillo, also a veteran nurse, this victory signifies a partnership with Complete Care in a mission to provide exceptional care to patients. “This is what we fought for, to have Complete Care be a partner in our efforts to care for our patients.”

[Adrienne Coles, HPAE press release]

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