US: Health care workers in Philadelphia strike for better work conditions and patient care

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1,000 nurses and 500 professional/technical workers at Temple University Hospital are now in the third week of a strike after working without a contract for the last six months. The workers are represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP).

The hospital administration has not moved from the “last, best and final” offer it presented to the union in September 2009 which includes concessions on union rights, wages, and health insurance. Most vexing to workers is the non-disparagement clause, which states that union members may not say anything negative about the hospital, its medical staff, or its care in any public forum. In defense of the gag clause, management’s lead negotiator told the bargaining committee, “You want your constitutional rights, go somewhere else!”

Further, the hospital refuses to negotiate staffing levels with the union, insisting they have no legal obligation to do so. Adequate staffing is critical to safe patient care and the committed, professional PASNAP members want to be assured they will have the staff to provide that care.

After crowing that the hospital would provide all services without interruption using scab labor, the hospital had to call workers at home the morning the strike began and ask them to report to work under the terms of the last, best and final offer. Anyone crossing the picket line will be taking a pay cut to work alongside scabs making up to $10,000 a week.

Night shift workers formed the initial picket lines at 7am. The rally began at 12 noon with about 1,200 workers. The mood was energetic, angry and up-beat. PASNAP officers, staff and rank-and-file members addressed the crowd. An executive committee member said scabs complained about having to cross “a line of angry black workers”. She agreed that she is an angry black worker, but one standing beside angry white workers, angry Filipino workers… (the crowd got so loud at this point the rest of the sentence was lost).

Another rank-and-file nurse reinforced that this isn’t just about nurses. We work as a team with the techs in the hospital and we will work together during the strike as well.

Members of both locals spoke about how the “gag” clause would adversely affect our ability to protect our patients.

Steelworker’s local 10-1 President, Jim Savage, brought a message of solidarity, as did Henry Nicholas, president of 1199C/AFSCME, which represents the service and clerical workers at the hospital. A student from the Temple University Student Labor Action Project spoke, saying that students didn’t want their tuition money spent on scab labor.

We marched around the building four abreast and completely encircled the block. Temple employees in unions not on strike spent their lunch breaks outside with us in a show of solidarity, waving to friends and shouting support. No one wanted to leave at the end of the hour and a half rally and march!

From March 31, day one of the strike, there have been brilliant examples of workers’ willingness to sacrifice to resist the hospital’s arrogant demands for concessions that undermine the power of the union and our living standards. Workers across the nation and across industries face the same concerted assault by their employers. We can link the struggles, share the experience, and spread the strike.

We do the work. We have the power.

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April 2010