The labor board ruled to continue awarding TUHS employees’ children tuition benefits.
The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board recently affirmed a previous decision forcing Temple to reinstate its tuition reimbursement program for the dependents of Temple University Hospital employees.
The PLRB reaffirmed its position, denying appeals by both the Temple University Health System and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Health Professionals.
According to the PLRB’s final order, Temple violated section 1201 (a) (1) and (5) of the Public Employee Relations Act. In March, Temple eliminated its tuition reimbursement program, which guaranteed free tuition to TUHS employees’ children. The union representing Temple nurses asserted that despite agreements reached in collective bargaining, Temple ended the program in bad faith.
“Our decision to eliminate tuition-assistance for the children of all Health System employees was based on several factors. It is not a competitive benefit within the marketplace, it applies to only a small number of employees and it’s inconsistent with the economic realities of the region,” Rebecca Harmon, TUHS public relations director, said.
Interim CEO of TUH Sandy Gomberg emphasized that negotiations are between PASNAP and Temple Hospital and that the university was not party to it.
“So, the hospital changed its policy in March where we decided to no longer extend tuition benefits to the children of our employees. The tuition benefits that our employees have access to are still in place. This policy change affected every single employee in the organization, every employee in the Health System, whether they were management or they were a member of any of our bargaining units,” Gomberg said.
The union said roughly 150 nurses and professional staff suffered monetary losses as a result of the program and are to be reimbursed in accordance with the PLRB’s decision.
Mary Adamson, a registered nurse, worked at Abington Hospital for five years, in addition to working part-time at Temple as well.
“In January, I took a full-time job [at Temple] because of that benefit. It was, when I signed the papers and accepted the job, [I would receive] college tuition for my daughter. Then on March 12, they just did an emergency meeting at the nurse’s station, right at the nurse’s station, and we were told that Temple’s no longer paying that money,” Adamson said.
“I had five years in at Abington and a pension, and I took a little bit of a pay cut to come here because I figured [the tuition reimbursement] would make up the difference, and [now] I’m not getting it,” she said.
Gomberg said that she believes they had the right to make the decision, however, that negotiations were taking place between TUH and PASNAP and that they were bargaining in good faith.
“We certainly believe we have the right to make changes in certain benefits, and that’s what we did. It’s certainly our position that we have the right to make that particular policy change in the way that we did it,” Gomberg said.
“I will mention that at the same time, it’s absolutely one of the topics on the table at negotiations. So we are as well actively negotiating around this topic, and that has been part of our negotiations since we began in the summer, so we are negotiating with it,” she added.
The January 2010 final order by the PLRB turned down appeals by TUH regarding the decision as well as appeals from PASNAP.
The ruling stated that Temple “cannot reasonably assert that it believed that PASNAP afforded it a right to act unilaterally in the sections of the agreements covering tuition reimbursement, where no specific language expressly addressing that right is included.”
Additionally, PASNAP also filed appeals.
“PASNAP also filed exceptions, arguing that the Hearing Examiner erred in failing to award payment for “loss of tuition benefits, costs and/or fees associated with any actions taken to make up the loss in tuition benefits; and any other losses incurred,” the order read.
“Both PASNAP and Temple had their appeals turned down by the Pa. Labor Relations Board. We certainly are appealing and that’ll go through the common wealth court system and it’ll go through the court process in the way that it goes through the court process,” Gomberg said.
Most recent negotiations between PASNAP and TUH were on Jan. 11.
“We remain completely available to the mediator,” Gomberg said. “We’re just waiting for the next round of dates to be set.”
Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at email@example.com.