Local politicians are urging Temple Hospital and the union to negotiate in good faith and end the strike as quickly as possible.
On March 31, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, the union that represents the nurses employed by Temple University Hospital, officially went on strike. Since the strike began last Wednesday at 7 a.m., PASNAP nurses and union representatives have been picketing outside of the hospital on Broad and Ontario streets.
There, passing cars honked in support of the nurses who held signs that read, “We demand respect and recognition,” “Our patients deserve better,” “Temple, put patients before profits” and “ER nurses, your first line of defense,” among others.
In a letter to Temple’s administration, members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, Sens. Shirley Kitchen, Lawrence Farnese, Vincent Hughes, Michael Stack, Christine Tartaglione, LeAnna Washington and Anthony Williams expressed their concerns about the “gag clause” and urged TUH to negotiate in good faith and bring an end to the strike as quickly as possible.
On Saturday, PASNAP members held a rally at Rittenhouse Square. In response to this rally, TUH issued a statement saying, “There are only two parties to the current labor dispute – PASNAP and Temple University Hospital. TUH is located at Broad & Ontario, in North Philadelphia. There is no reason for PASNAP to have attempted a disruption at Rittenhouse Square today. The strike against TUH is about wages and benefits only.”
Additionally, TUH wrote, “We offered fair wage increases to our nurses and allied-health professionals. The union is demanding a 14.5 percent increase for both groups. In today’s economy, their position is unreasonable.
“There is no ‘gag clause,’” the statement continued. “The Hospital’s Non-Disparagement clause is designed to prevent the union from continuing its disparaging attacks on the Hospital’s business practices and services. PASNAP is well aware of the intent of the clause, which in no way prevents our employees from fulfilling their patient-advocacy obligations. On March 24, the Hospital offered to drop its Non-Disparagement clause in its last, best and final offer in order to reach a settlement. The union leadership rejected that offer.”
Jerry Silberman, staff representative to the Temple nurses, said TUH’s statement was misleading.
“What happened on March 24 was that the mediator asked to talk to us. This was supposed to be an ‘off-the-record’ meeting, where the arbitrator makes an effort to get the parties together. It is not negotiation, which can happen only with our committee, and it’s supposed to stay within the room where the conversation happened. That’s part of the rules of the game of bargaining, like Geneva conventions in war, but Temple doesn’t respect them,” Silberman said.
“What [hospital negotiators] said was, ‘We’ll drop the gag clause if you accept the rest [of] our final offer.’ In other words, another ultimatum, not a bargaining position. We told him that was unacceptable. The conversation ended. It should have stayed there. For Temple now to misrepresent it as if they had made an unconditional offer to take it off the table in order to get a bargaining process underway couldn’t be farther from the truth,” he continued.
“Their reference to the 14.5 percent wage increase is cynicism at its highest, since the proposal by the union is for a four-year agreement, with those increases spread out as follows 3 percent, 3.5 percent, 4 percent, 4 percent, per year,” Silberman added.
PASNAP called on the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to investigate the potential violation of laws by TUH. In response to allegations of inferior or inadequate care during the strike, TUH officials asserted they are, “in daily contact with the Department of Health to provide ongoing updates. During the past week, the Department of Health visited our Hospital on multiple occasions in order to ensure that we are in compliance with our Continuing Operations Plan and all applicable regulations.
“We are outraged that the union leadership continues with its irresponsible attempts to frighten our patients and the community about the quality of care being provided at TUH by making unfounded and self-serving allegations. In fact, these antics support our claims of defamation against PASNAP that are now pending before the court, and demonstrate the union’s intent to use any tactic they can to garner support – even at the expense of our patients,” hospital officials responded.
TUH Interim CEO Sandy Gomberg stressed the quality of the hospital’s care during the strike.
“We will not engage with this labor union in a debate about the quality of care we continue to provide,” Gomberg said. “That is our responsibility, and in fact, PASNAP led its members to walk away from the bedside of our patients.”
Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.