Published in Philadelphia Weekly
Two weeks after walking out of work, the 1,500 Temple University Hospital nurses and technicians are in good spirits manning the picket line and demanding that hospital officials sit down to the table and bargain in good faith.
“I feel good because we are united fighting and we all will be here until we get a decent contract,” said Sabrina Nixon, a medical technologist who has worked for TUH for 22 years.
The two-week landmark comes just a couple of days short of payday Friday, one that will only bring in a few dollars worth a couple days’ work. But this doesn’t seem to trouble Nixon, who said she planned ahead in light of what was in store for her and all of her unionized colleagues. “I knew this was coming and that’s why I saved money and got a part time job in June so I could have some income,” she said. The strike, Nixon added, “is not about the money but about fighting for a good contract.”
The 1,500 health care professionals—members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP)—had been working without a contract since October 2009 and hit the picket line on March 31 after months of failed negotiations. At the heart of the conflict are two clauses included in TUH best and final offer: eliminating the longstanding benefit of free tuition for employees’ children and “non-disparagement” language in their contracts which would impede PASNAP members from openly criticize the hospital or its officials. “This has nothing to do with the money. We want to keep the benefits that we have,” said Susan Todd, a registered nurse working for TUH.
Without mentioning specifics, Temple Hospital management insists it has been negotiating in good faith with PASNAP for the past nine months. “We have reached agreements on a variety of issues,” said Rebecca Harmon, TUH spokeswoman. “At this time, however, we remain far apart on several key economic issues.”
But the agreement on those key economic issues seems distant, and in the meantime 850 out of town replacements have made their way to Philadelphia to take over the duties of those demanding a better contract. Harmon wouldn’t specify as to how much they’re paying these replacements but a flyer circulating online from a company called HealthSource Global Staffing shows the temporary workers were offered up to $10,338 per week to work during the strike.
“They are acting the way I expected,” said Maureen May, who has been with TUH for 26 years and is also president of the nurses union. “They want to break us. But they never believed we could stay united.” She said that the picket line has four shifts with up to 30 people manning it during each stint. But that figure does not include the support other organizations have provided. Last Thursday, members of the Media Mobilizing Project, the Philadelphia Student Union and Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania joined the picket line. “I’m here today because they want to take the nurses’ capability to speak out,” said Justin Carter, 17, a PSU member from West Philly High. “As a teenager, as a student I have experienced this and I’m tired they’re trying to get our voices silenced.”
Harmon didn’t produce an answer when asked if the non-disparagement could be an infringement on the nurses First Amendment rights. But this sole issue has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the Chicago Tribune that TUH is “simply dressing up a gag order in fancy clothes.”