Striking nurses will get unemployment

By John O'Brien | Jan 28, 2009


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - Nurses on strike in New Jersey may collect unemployment benefits, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In a 6-1 decision, the justices sided with nurses at Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro who claimed they were entitled to benefits because the hospital replaced them and suffered no stoppage of work.

"A loss of revenue attributable to the strike that does not result in a substantial curtailment of work at the hospital is not the equivalent of a 'stoppage of work,'" Justice Barry Albin wrote.

Thus, state law allows "striking workers to receive unemployment benefits, provided they do not cause their employer to suffer a 'stoppage of work.'"

More than 200 nurses went on strike in April 2004, and 97 of them applied for unemployment benefits. The state Division of Unemployment Insurance ruled that year the nurses were entitled to benefits.

The hospital appealed, claiming the $1 million it spent per month hiring replacement nurses constituted a "stoppage of work."

"Despite the considerable financial difficulties produced by the strike, Lourdes continued to function at full service," Albin wrote.

"It found replacement nurses, maintained its patient and employee census, and did not curtail its hospital procedures.

Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto dissented.

"By judicial fiat, the majority upends the commonsense notion that striking employees have left their employment voluntarily and, hence, should be disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits," Rivera-Soto wrote.

"Instead, the majority upholds an award of unemployment compensation benefits to a group of striking nurses, workers who left their employment voluntarily."

"That determination runs contrary to the basic premises of the Unemployment Compensation Law..."

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