Philly nurses hit the picket line

April 7, 2010

PHILADELPHIA--Several hundred striking nurses and others on strike were joined by family members and supporters at a March 31 noontime rally in front of Temple University Hospital.

At 7 a.m. that day, the 1,000 nurses and 500 respiratory technicians and others who are members of the Temple Hospital unit of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professions (PASNAP) walked out after working without a contract since September 30 of last year.

They marched along Broad Street, chanting, "What's disgusting, union busting," "No contract, no work," and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Temple's gag law has to go," and then heard from several speakers.

A key issue in the strike is a clause in the hospital administration's final contract offer, which states: "The association [the union], its officers, agents, representatives and members shall not publicly criticize, ridicule or make any statement which disparages or is derogatory of Temple, officers."

In a live television interview on the picket line the morning of the walkout, Patricia Eakin, state president of PASNAP and a nurse at the hospital, stated that the proposed "gag clause" would have prevented nurses from speaking out against the recent closing of the Northeast branch of the hospital, which served a poor community.

The clause would also forbid nurses from speaking out about the cuts in staffing levels. "If this strike was just about pay, we would not be out here," Eakin said. "I really think they're trying to break the union...This gag rule is unacceptable." She said that during the bargaining, union negotiators were told by a hospital representative that "If you want constitutional rights, go elsewhere."

A nurse who was handing out informational flyers explained that the main issue for her and her coworkers was adequate staffing levels, not money. Recently, administrators have been sending nurses home after four hours, saying that there's not enough work. But then the hospital wasn't prepared for a large influx of patients from the emergency room.

For about 25 years, employees have had free tuition for themselves, spouses and their children at Temple University. For many, this has been a major reason to work there. Yet one year ago, the administration ended this benefit for all hospital workers. A hearing officer for the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has ruled that Temple Hospital violated the old contract, but PASNAP expects the ruling to be appealed.

In current negotiations, management wants to double and triple workers' payroll deduction for health insurance. The employers are also proposing a 4 percent pay increase over three years, while the union wants 14.5 percent over four years.

Management is playing hardball. The hospital bosses prepared for the strike by going to HealthSource Global Staffing, a California company that specializes in strikebreakers. The scabs include some 850 nurses and technicians. According to PASNAP:

In addition to the cost of the replacement workers' high-salaries, which can reach over $10,000 per week, the hospital is spending nearly $2 million on the strikebreaker agency overhead, luxury hotel rooms, meals, transportation, extra security and airfare. Temporary replacement workers have been flown in to Philadelphia from 42 states across the country.

Some Temple University students have formed TU Students for Nurses and Allied Professionals," and the group sponsored an informational picket line outside the campus administration building on the Friday before the strike. They have also hosted a fundraising event.

For more information on this struggle, visit the Temple Watch Web site run by PASNAP.

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