After six months without a contract, the members of PASNAP nurses’ union plan to strike March 31.
Seven years ago, registered nurse Marty Harrison was preparing to strike with the nurses of the Medical College of Pennsylvania East Falls Hospital.
“I came to Temple from MCP, so I’ve been through this before. But it’s going to be much different than it was at MCP. The union is much stronger. We’re in a much stronger position than we were there,” Harrison said.
Tomorrow at 7 a.m., Harrison will be among the members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals from Temple University Hospital slated to officially go on strike. PASNAP, the union representing the Temple nurses, gave TUH its 10-day strike notice March 19.
The union nurses have been without a contract since September and first notified TUH of their intent to strike Oct. 2 as a result of unsuccessful contract negotiations.
“They are not going to settle this without a strike. It’s become very clear to us,” Jerry Silberman, staff representative for the Temple nurses, said.
TUH officials assert their final offer is fair and competitive, leaving the Temple nurses still the highest paid in the region, with the average hourly rate for a nurse at $39.80 and an identical healthcare plan to employees at all levels in the health system.
Nurses and union employees have asserted that their dissatisfaction with TUH’s final offer lies in working conditions and patient advocacy, not just wages and benefits.
“Temple’s administrators have clung to their unreasonable demands. These are changes we believe will threaten the patients’ safety,” Maureen May, a registered nurse, said.
Since PASNAP gave its strike notice, TUH has been preparing to keep the hospital operational.
“Temple University Hospital will remain open and will continue to deliver uninterrupted quality care to our patients. We’ve activated our continuing operations plan to ensure that we can deliver that care, and that plan includes all aspects of preparedness and execution to make sure we have all the services and staff in all of the right places to take care of the patients,” Interim CEO of TUH Sandy Gomberg said.
Additionally, Gomberg stressed that all Temple doctors and roughly 3,000 non-union employees will be available during the strike to direct the temporary nursing staff and continue to care for patients.
Silberman had different thoughts about the hospital’s continuing operations plan.
“They are robo-calling every nurse in Eastern [Pennsylvania] and offering them $10,000 a week to work during the strike,” Silberman said.
“I know that Temple is using the economy as an excuse for coming after us, but I really think that it’s not really relevant. They’ve shown that money isn’t really the issue by [being] willing to pay scab nurses $10,000 dollars a week,” Harrison said. “Obviously this isn’t about money. It’s about power. It’s about breaking the union.”
“They’ve taken the position that ‘We’re going to impose on you what we can impose on any employee who isn’t represented [by a union],’” Silverman added. “That’s the definition of union busting, to take that attitude, and they are willing to test our resolve and put patients in the middle.”
TUH Public Relations Director Rebecca Harmon said the hospital would do whatever it needs to do to continue providing quality care to its patients.
“We arranged for fully-qualified and licensed temporary nurses and allied-health professionals only after we received a strike notice from the union – so whatever dollars are being spent are in response to the union’s strike notice,” Harmon said.
Both Harrison and May said they did not want to strike but, like Silberman, felt they were left with no alternative.
“We have no choice in the matter,” Harrison said. “Their offer is completely unacceptable. It was designed to make us go out on strike.”
“Our code of ethics dictates that we advocate for our patients, whether it’s by ourselves or as a collective,” May said.
“We need better than that,” Harrison added. “Our patients need better than that. There’s no going back now, we have to go out and we have to win and we have to win big.”
Gomberg vouched for the qualifications of the temporary nurses and allied-health professionals who would work during the strike, explaining they would go through the same orientation and vetting that any new employee would.
“They’re already preparing for our replacements,” May said. “They’re already here.”
“I would not hesitate to bring my family members to TUH for care should a strike occur,” Harmon said.
While there were no additional formal negotiation attempts over the weekend, state mediator Mark Lamont met with Temple’s chief negotiator Sunday. TUH reiterated its “last, best and final offers.” Lamont said since PASNAP and TUH were so far apart on wage proposals, there was no reason to bring the parties together at this time.
“I think our members are fully united around this. Not to say people aren’t scared. We are scared because we’ve never been on a strike before,” Silberman said.
Although Silberman said there is no way of predicting how long the strike will last, PASNAP has told members to prepare for several weeks.
“For Temple to take us this far and put us out on strike, the amount of money they’ve sunk in this already, it doesn’t make sense for them to only keep us out a couple of days,” Silberman said. “It only makes sense for them to keep us out long enough to suffer. The question is who suffers more. We’re convinced it will be Temple.”
Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at email@example.com.