Union threatens war in protest at TUH

JC MORITZ | TTN
JC MORITZ | TTN

Temple University Hospital and one of its major worker’s unions are at odds over the hospital’s appeal of an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate a female employee accused of sexually harassing another worker.

The National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFSCME District 1199c, which represents many of the hospital’s service and clerical workers, held a demonstration in front of the hospital along North Broad Street on Sunday after the the hospital filed a suit of appeal against the arbitrator’s decision, which while criticizing the defendants actions, stated that the hospital did not have sufficient cause to fire her, and ordered that she be reinstated with seniority.

According to the complaint, Lisa Pena, a senior patient interviewer, was fired in April 2012 for sexually harassing a junior female patient interviewer, also a member of the union. The complaint alleges that Pena used sexual innuendos with the junior employee on repeated occasions.

The complaint also states that Pena was disciplined “numerous times” over a period of 30 years for “unprofessional and rude behavior towards patients and patient’s family member, as well as violations of the attendance policy.”

JC MORITZ | TTN
JC MORITZ | TTN

In March, Richard Kasher, an arbitrator hearing a petition of grievance by the district on behalf of Pena, ruled that while she did engage in misconduct, she should be reinstated due to her seniority.

Henry Nicholas, the president of District 1199, said that while the union does not defend the actions of Pena, they believe the hospital is violating its contract with union by not abiding by the arbitrator’s decision.

Nicholas, who has served as president of the union for 51 years, said he has never in his time seen a employer not follow the decision of an arbitrator. At the rally, Nicholas gave a fiery speech in which he called on the hospital to quickly resolve the matter.

“We are here as a symbol of peace,” Nicholas said, “but we have not counted out the possibility of war.”

Nicholas said afterward that he could have the hospital “shut down tomorrow,”  but that he would wait for a call from Larry Kaiser, the CEO of Temple University Health System.

Peter Gould, the executive vice president for District 1199c, gave assurance that there would be no strike by hospital employees, due a clause in the union’s contract, but that other options could be taken to resolve the “major, major dispute.”

In a press release issued this morning, the university responded to the protest defending its decision to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling.

“Length-of-service should not shield employees from their responsibility to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times. We expect all employees to abide by our standards of conduct for the benefit of our patients and each other; and we will tolerate no less,” the release said. “While respecting the arbitration process, Temple University Hospital filed its appeal because the conduct at issue violates the Commonwealth’s dominant public policy against sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Thomas Massaro, an adviser to Nicholas, said the appeal represents a violation of contract that is larger than the case itself.

“If you agree to such arbitration, you shouldn’t arbitrarily unwind that,” Massaro said. “Lisa could be anyone else.”

Massaro added that relations between the hospital and the union have been historically strong, which he credited to the hospital’s work treating lower-income patients. Massaro said that he has confidence that a resolution will soon be met with hospital administrators.

Nicholas, on the other hand, had a more severe outlook for the future. While he said he hoped administrators would quickly schedule a meeting, he alluded to a hunger strike he said he had once held in the hospital’s trauma unit, and the possibility of taking such action again.

John Moritz can be reached at john.moritz@temple.edu or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.

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