Nurse-strike threat still imminent

Temple Hospital nurses postponed their strike, but negotiations continue.

Temple Hospital nurses postponed their strike, but negotiations continue.

HANNAH PILLING TTN Temple Hospital nurses threaten to strike, but not over pay and hours. They want more hands-on patient care.

The union representing the nurses and allied-health professionals in the Temple University Health System notified Temple University Hospital last week of its intent to strike on Oct. 2. The intended strike was a result of unsuccessful contract negotiations between the union and TUH officials.

The strike was postponed, but according to union representatives, it has not been prevented.

“Today, our nurses are among the best paid in the region, with an average hourly rate of $39.80, which translates into more than $82,000 a year, and that’s without overtime, on-call and shift-differential pay,” said TUHS Director of Public Relations Rebecca Harmon. “Our final offer included a wage-adjustment scale for nurses of 0 percent in the first year, 2 percent in the second year, and 2 percent in the third year. Even without a wage increase this year, TUH nurses still set the highest wage levels in the market.”

In the union’s press release, union Director Bill Cruice said that Temple has misrepresented its financial situation by publicly projecting that it was losing money.

“Given their profitable status, Temple President Ann Weaver Hart is engaged in a reckless and irresponsible attack on the dedicated nursing and professional staff,” Cruice said.

However, Jerry Silberman, staff representive to the Temple nurses, said the issue was not an economic one.

“This is not about money,” he said. “What Temple is trying to do is eliminate the ability of nurses and professionals to have any control over their working conditions, and especially to eliminate their ability to advocate for their patients.”

Silberman expressed concerns about how Temple runs the hospital, which may lead to nurse and other professionals not being able to advocate for their patients.

“Because Temple is operating not as a hospital which provides medical care, but as a business which provides services to customers, they want us to agree that the customer is always right,” Silberman said. “Meaning that a person who may be very ill, may not even be totally oriented because of the stress that they’re under or the medications that they’re taking, that a nurse and a professional cannot exercise their obligation under their license or under their ethical responsibilities to do what’s best.”
Sandy Gomberg, interim CEO of TUH, said Cruice is wrong.

“Temple University Health System and Temple University Hospital are separate corporations and we have our own separate boards,” she said. “Dr. Hart as president of the university and the board of the university are not the folks responsible or involved in the negotiations.”

“We didn’t come into the contract with any major expectations of economic gain,” Silberman responded. “We do expect … garden variety increases. We are bargaining over that, but the position that Temple is taking which seems to us from all the way that they’ve been acting is to provoke a strike.”

Silberman added that any employer who provokes a strike in the case of a hospital is reckless.
Nursing staff members agree that it isn’t all about money.

“We have great wages and benefits, we know that,” said Maureen May, a registered nurse. “For me, and for most nurses, contract language is really most important. We work under conditions where we can’t advocate for our patients. Temple’s new language in the contract pretty much would stifle us.”

Gomberg said she blames the contract negotiation failures on a communication disconnect.

“Collective bargaining, which is what an employer does with a union … only deals with wages and benefits, health and welfare of the employee,” she explained. “So the only items that can be on the bargaining table are things like wages and salary, health benefits, vacation time and hours of work.”

Gomberg said that patient safety, care and quality are important to clinical staff but generally are not subject to collective bargaining.

Hours are a concern for nurses like May, who said that an issue at TUH is the 12- or eight-hour work day.

“We work 12-hour shifts, which is a great opportunity for us. It makes for a smoother transition in handling communication. That’s one of the big problems with medical errors, is when you hand off a patient assignment or when there is a handoff communication. It carries the risk of something going wrong,” May said.

May explained that Temple created a system with two 12-hour shifts and two eight-hour shifts, leaving a four-hour gap.

Future negotiations will take place on Oct. 12 and Oct. 15. Both Silberman and May said they foresee a strike.

“I think that unless Temple makes some very significant changes in their position, having to do with nurses’ and professionals’ rights to have a union and to advocate for their patients … a strike is more likely than not,” Silberman said.

May agreed. “I think it’s more than just benefits and wages. I do believe that we will strike,” she said.
Gomberg said their priority in the event of a strike is providing care to their patients.

TUH has a continuing operations plan so that if the nurses strike, they will bring in temporary staff members to replace the union members.

“The thing that is absolutely most important to me is that Temple University Hospital honors its [responsibility] to the community,” Gomberg said. “They’re still going to need to come here for care, even though a portion of our work force has decided to stop working.

“So we will take whatever actions are needed to make sure that the hospital continues to be open and that all of our services continue to be available.”

Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at


  1. I’m certain if Ms. Gomberg had been present at any bargaining sessions she would have been well aware of the fact that hours of work, quality of care, and patient safety are of paramount importance to the bargaining unit. She is, to my understanding, a nurse. Surely she hasn’t forgetten she’s a patient advocate first and foresmost.

  2. Being new to the bargaining process, I am appalled at the disrespect shown by Temple’s administration. They continue to paint a picture of nurses as greedy and willing to walk out on thier patients however, we are the ones at the bedside for years. We are are part of a bargaining unit to make the hospital environment the best it can be. Many of us intend to make this hospital home for out careers and Temple is attempting to make this impossible and unbearable.

    Ms. Gomberg claims to care for the community but community leaders continue to voice time and time again that Temple does not care about them. The nurses and professionals care about the community by taking care of them, regardless of race or creed, everyday.

    Yes, we recognize we have good wages and benefits. We deserve both. Temple is by far the most difficult hospital in the city. We put our licenses on the line daily due to unsafe staffing and multiple handoffs throughout the day. Our patients are very sick and deserve our care.

  3. I can’t believe that Temple would pay enourmous salaries to the way too many CEO’s yet try to tell their employees they have no money! This “non profit organization” which can pay someone $9,000.00 a week, or more, has no money for the proper care of patients. The empolyees who are involved in this negotiation deal with direct patient care. We are there at the bedside and in the labs giving the best care we can. Don’t our families deserve the same consideration!

  4. I have been an RN for 34 years, most of it at Temple, and a member of many bargaining committees over the years. I now work in the ER. In the past we always settled with a fair contract that generally showed respect for the hard work we do. This time the Temple administration hired some outside people who have no interest in the community or the staff, as evidenced by the callous closure of Northeastern Hospital. I find it an astounding display of arrogance that the administrators contend that they care about the patients when they never even made an attempt to look for solutions to keep Northeastern up and running.

    This same arrogance will push the RNs and all of the professional and technical staff out on strike. Administrators pay themselves millions and simultaneously cry poor. They never touch a patient and are distant from the day to day operations, yet they try to stifle our demands for decent wages, safe staffing, and more equipment to take care of the patients. And, by the way, they made a profit last year and have $350 million in the bank. They can easily afford to do better for the employees and the community.

    Our work environment is our patients’ care environment and we will always fight to make it better.

  5. I have been an RN for 36 years. The past 27 years of my nursing career have been at the many bedsides of Temple critical care units, caring for general surgical, trauma, open heart/heart/heart-lung transplant, and most recently, neurosurgical patients. I had planned to retire from Temple after a rich and rewarding career.

    I was also fortunate enough to have been chosen by my fellow nurses to have been a member of their negotiating committee for our past three contracts. I must say that this is the first time that I had ever seen Temple act with such blatant disrespect for those of us on the other side of the table.

    Ms. Harmon gives the impression that we are a group of greedy nurses, only interested in money. Ms. Gomberg says that “collective bargaining…only deals with wages and benefits, health and welfare of the employee…”, completely neglecting the fact that working conditions are directly related to employee health and welfare. She neglects to mention that much of what we are fighting for is preservation of benefits and working conditions that we already have in our contract.

    As nurses and healthcare professionals, we are fighting to have language governing the workplace put into our contract to help protect our patients and our professional licenses. It is only because the Pennsylvania legislature finally outlawed involuntary overtime that nurses are no longer mandated to stay after completing a 12 hour shift because of unfilled holes in the schedule or an unforseen illness. We are now fighting to limit the number of patients that we are expected to care for.

    It is unfortunate that the Administrators at Temple who once worked at a pateint bedside have forgotten what it is to be a nurse first and an administrator second. While we recognize the importance of fiscal responsibility, especially at this time in history, we first and foremost recognize the importance of patient care and advocacy and wish that Temple would join us in this venture.

  6. In my 15 years as a nurse, I’ve never worked with a bunch of greedy administrative staff ever! Sandy, how come you say money isn’t the issue when all you talk about is how Temple nurses make the highest salary in the tristate area. First of all, it isn’t true. The average nurse’s salary at Temple isn’t $39.00/ hr unless youv’e been a nurse for at least 10 years. And in case you didn’t know, we nurses get paid by years of experience. So, the 23% of nurses who you say get paid between $100-$206,000/ year, 9 times out of 10 they are CRNA’s or NP who well deserve the pay. Let’s not talk about your pay, and what you deserve. Sandy how about you stoop to our level for a day and come work on the floors, so you can see why we deserve top pay and more. Temple isn’t a Magnet status Hospital, and with the type of administrative staff that we have on board, I can surely see why not. We don’t drive to Center City to work, and we choose not to. We come to Temple. We work every single day with inadequate supplies,short staffing,and the list goes on. We shouldn’t have to file an incident report on a daily basis because we have no small N-95 mask to protect ourselves from contracting tuberculosis. Another thing,it would be nice to see faces instead of hearing names. I’ve never heard of Ann Weaverhart, Mr.Notebart,or Sandy Gomberg until I’ve found out what they’re trying to take away from us. At least some of your other staff such as Susan Freeman, who’ll come to certain units and don’t even speak, but will from time to time step foot on the floors. Wow you really make us feel appreciated. We really do care about our patients, and enjoy our coworkers. Sandy you end every letter with patient care, but we are the ones at the bedside, so you really have no idea how hard we work and what a typical day is like for us nurses. I think it’s time you find out. Come join us for one day.

  7. I have been an Rn for almost 23 years, the last 5 of which have been here at Temple Hospital. Never in all my years as a nurse have I felt more undervalued or taken advantage of by administration than since joining this institution. I feel as if I have to be on my guard in protecting my professional license on a daily basis, yet still provide the best patient care I am able to give. I feel as if the members of the two bargaining units are not really asking for anything we dont already have in our contracts (which administrators seem to take delight in breaking)… we all know the economy is rough. We simply want the respect and safety we feel we deserve!

  8. I started working at Temple almost 18 years ago. I came right from school to Temple. I have to say I LOVE my job and my co-workers. This is my first time being on Temple’s bargaining committee. My co-workers voted me in and I am honored to represent them. We have a true family inside of Temple walls. I am shocked and saddened by the way things are going at the table.

    I truly cant believe that Temple administration has NO respect for the people who made Temple The Hospital of Choice and Employer of choice. What makes a hospital an employer of choice? The new marble hallway? What about the cafeteria? Or that corporate buliding that is basically going to waste? Sandy said it was a mistake that Temple said they were the employer of choice. We should have never started that! What makes Temple an Employer of choice is the wonderful benefits that we do deserve. Now Temple wants to take that ALL away. What is going to retain the health care professionals at Temple? The way administrations treats their staff? The abudance of equipment?(yeah right) Its like a scavenger hunt to find equipment and when you do….It might not be working!

    We can provide wonderful care anywhere. We chose Temple! Ask the docs how they feel about the staff going on strike! They are scared that their patients are not going to get the care they deserve. So administration put on a pair of scrubs and join us on the floors and talk to the docs! See how they feel. I would love an answer to WHAT will keep us working at Temple under these conditions.

    Increasing TAPS healthcare 300%
    Taking away tuition for our dependents
    Increasing our prescriptions to a percentage
    Trying to place a gag on our UNION!
    Wage freezes
    Disrespect from admin
    the list goes on!

  9. The failed contract negotiations between Temple Hospital and the nurses and health professionals is just another gross example of basic corporate greed. Hospitals have become the feeding grounds for corporate sharks who put profits before patients crying broke as a smoke screen.

    The unions are fighting to keep patients safe and their benefits and salaries secure. The war that Temple is waging against their employees stips them of the dignity to care for their families and enables out of touch administrators to line their pockets with millions of dollars putting innocent patients in harms way in the process.

    I ask all of our local politicians and community leaders to help us in the fight to keep Temple from raiding our staff and keep our community of patients safe.

  10. I have been an RN for 26 years. In this 26 years I’ve worked in many hospitals either as staff ,agency or pool. Temple has always been my favorite. Temple has good, really good people working for them. Nurses with longevity that can administer good knowledgable care to their patients…dispite lack of blood pressure cuffs, pillows, my favorite bedpans. The fact that they don’t staff for empty beds making three to one assignments in high acquity ICU’s inevitable. We make it work. What destroys what could be great in a working environment is the on-going animosity brought to Temple from its own adminstration. Its believable that our administration doesn’t even know what takes place at Temple. Its hard here.The expression if you can work Temple you can work anywhere stands for itself. How dare our administration feel we’re expendable..make us not feel worthy or that we’re the enemy. Other hospitals are cutting costs in how they use their utilities or how they deal with their toxic waste. Temple only solution every contract is to attack nursing by spending millions on outsiders to solve their problems. Our administration is to eager to spend on whats not important and to lazy to seek out outher solutions.

  11. No one wins in a strike. It would be a very sad thing to take 1500 healthcare workers out, who could be permantly replaced during such desperate times. It would be irresponsible on the union’s part, and unprofessional for the staff. Again, these are desperate times.

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