Jersey Journal

Health Care Labor Union, Prospective Meadowlands Hospital Buyer Reach Tentative Agreement

The Jersey Journal — Thursday, September 16, 2010

By Mark Maurer / The Jersey Journal

A New Jersey health care labor union and the private investment group expected to buy Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement.

Emerson-based Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which represents about 400 employees at the hospital, has been pushing for prospective buyer MHA to confirm that full staff and services will be retained if the transaction were to be finalized.

The sale estimated at $15 million would convert the 230-bed facility located at 55 Meadowlands Parkway from a nonprofit to a for-profit institution, a proposal that has come under scrutiny. Current owner LibertyHealth System announced the proposal sale in January.

Members of the HPAE Local 5147 are expected to vote on the tentative agreement on Wednesday, Sept. 22. Details are being withheld until the ratification vote, according to a news release.

The agreement ensures quality care for the community and provides workplace protections for the health care workers, said Ann Twomey, union president, in a release.

"Coming prior to final approvals of the sale of Meadowlands Hospital, this agreement represents important assurances from the prospective buyer for a seamless transition and for continued access to quality health care," Twomey said. "We will also continue to advocate for the state to obtain written commitments to maintain our hospital and all of its services."

This tentative compromise was settled upon shortly after all 651 Meadowlands staffers were notified via office and home mail Monday that their employment with LibertyHealth will expire in no less than 60 days. The union's agreement with MHA would ensure that their jobs will be transitioned under the new owners of the hospital. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act legally requires the current owner to provide notice.

MHA spokesman Bill Maer said he is confident that the group will have agreements covering all employees, including those not represented by HPAE, in the future.

"We've been in constant communication with HPAE," Maer said. "We want to make sure the conditions are fair for all employees and look forward to working with them."

The first hearing for state approval of the sale was held on Aug. 26, with a follow-up hearing scheduled for September 21 at 6 p.m. at Secaucus High School, 11 Mill Ridge Rd.

State watchdog group New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA) and HPAE worked to collect more than 1,200 signatures from Secaucus residents on a petition, which was presented to the Health Planning Board at the first hearing.

Union members wore red shirts that read "Put it in writing," calling on the hospital's buyer to address their concerns about diminished care.

MHA, which was formed in Newark for the sole purpose of purchasing the hospital, is in talks with LibertyHealth on a management agreement that will let MHA begin operations prior to the license transfer, Maer said.

Meadowlands sustained losses of $500,000 to $700,000 a month in the past year, said Mark Rabson, a spokesman for LibertyHealth.

The State Health Planning Board has until Sept. 25 to make a recommendation to Poonam Alaigh, the health commissioner, who then has 60 days to make a decision on the proposed sale which is also under review by the attorney general as required by law.

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