NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (PIX11) – One of New Jersey’s largest hospitals is being met with large and loud resistance.

The nurses of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital are on strike for safer staffing ratios.

“We were the ones here during COVID. We were the ones that never backed away,” said Susan Aitkens a registered nurse who has worked at the hospital for 40 years. “We did it without a vaccine, without masks. They weren’t prepared for us and no one complained, and now we’re still being treated like we don’t matter.”

The nurses’ union said the more than 1,600 nurses care for more than 100,000 patients a year and that staffing has deteriorated to the point where they are unable to even train their own staff. 

Nurses say fewer patients per nurse equates to better outcomes.

“Safe patient ratios has to do with saving lives,” said nurse Dhalia Thomas. “That’s why we stand in unity, in solidarity on one accord.”

The hospital said it has some of the highest staffing levels and that its nurses are the highest paid in New Jersey.

Negotiations began in April with the two sides reaching a tentative agreement last month, addressing staffing concerns and increasing wages and benefits. The hospital said its latest offer included a $20 per hour bonus for nurses should the hospital fall below agreed-upon standards. A few days later, the union rejected the agreement.

Nurses, some with decades of experience, some in their first year on the job, are making a loud plea for themselves and their patients.

“Nurses are the first ones when you breathe in life, and we’re the last ones when you leave life,” said Thomas, who has more than 20 years of experience as a nurse. “That’s why we’re here in solidarity.”

“We had chills this morning. We were very kind of emotional,” said Emily Bleich, who became a nurse less than two years ago. “Nobody wanted it to come to this, but unfortunately that is the reality right now, and we’re going to fight for what we want and what’s important at the end of the day.”