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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Striking Nurses: Do Ends Justify the Means?

Published April 7, 2010 1:28 PM by Valerie Newitt

When nurses go on strike, it can be a thankless undertaking. They may be fighting for an ideal of better patient care, while at the same time walking away from the patients for whom they are caring. It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

At Philadelphia's Temple University Hospital (TUH), that scenario is playing out as some 1,500 striking nurses and allied care providers represented by Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) are walking the picket line, staging rallies and speaking out about the very essence of advocacy, all the while temporary workers are being flown in from 42 states to fill their shoes at a reported -- and enviable -- weekly salary of over $10,000 per nurse.

According to the nurses involved in the labor action, it isn't about money. Their leadership is flat out stating that good contracts equal good patient care. Sure, good contracts result in money and benefits and more, they say, but that all translates into quality care at the bedside.

How so? At Temple, located in the somewhat rough North sector of Philadelphia, recruitment and retention presents challenges. One way TUH has attracted stellar nurses is by offering tuition to Temple University, not only for the nurses, but for their dependants as well. That has since been removed from the mix as the last bargaining agreement expired. Nurses argue that loss of benefit will mean the departure of quality staff, and what may appear to be an economic issue on the face of it is really an issue of maintaining excellent patient care.

The Temple work stoppage has many components, including a "non-disparagement clause" that, according to the nurses, seeks to limit what nurses can say about TUH publicly -- even if it happens to be true. Nurses fear this will limit their basic right to freedom of speech and, what's worse (in their eyes), their right to fully advocate for their patients. If they want to speak out about staffing ratios (a current contract issue), their mouths would be kept shut by a punitive stapler wrapped up in a gag clause. For more details on the issues, click here.

Is it ever OK for nurses to walk off the job? Do the ends justify the means? It's a hard call; but in the end, it's YOUR call.



To answer the question is it ever ok for nurses to walk off the job?  Let me start by saying We the nurses of Temple University Hospital gave a 10 day notice to strike as required per our expired contract.  Temple administration was not willing to negotiate prior to the strike notice nor after.  Therefore, the real question should be is it ever ok for hospital administrators to take advantage of their staff both emotionally and physically by ignoring poor work conditions, and disrespectfully instituting unfair labor practices on their employees.  The main purpose of this strike is to open the eyes of the public to the sheer ignorance and greed of the temple administration.  It is not what you do but how you do it, and to cut dependent tuition in the middle of a contract is just plain wrong, as two judges have agreed in court when temple attempted to appeal the decision twice.  When you as administrators show no respect to the same employees who struggle everyday to maintain protocols and keep daily operational profits flowing, then us as employees have no other choice but to demand the respect and recognition even if it means our own livelyhoods are at risk because if you stand for nothing you fall for anything.  I think it's unfortunate for our patients to be placed in the middle however, its now or never cause if we accept the four year contract they propose then it's four years of suffering for the patients and the families and the employees.  The morale at Temple has been low for the past 4-6 months ever since the strike talk began unhappy employees equal unhappy patients but the administartors maintain happiness and wealth?????????????Go figure?????

kee , ICU - RN, TUH April 9, 2010 12:21 PM
phila AK

As nurses and professional staff at Temple University Hospital, we are putting our money where our mouth is by bringing our protest to the streets, to stand up for our patients, our families and ourselves.  

It is said that no one "wins" in a strike.  This is not true.  In financial terms, Temple Hospital will lose money by recklessly spending tax payer money way beyond what it would take to settle this strike.  But this seems like Monopoly money to Temple.  Temple has a history of spending lots of money foolishly.  Remember "Temple Children's Hospital"?  What happened there?  

Temple administration will win financially, and indeed are winning now, enjoying salaries and bonuses well above fair market value.  Remember Wall Street executives getting rich while their companies went broke?  Temple refuses to talk about administrative compensation. The "replacement" workers are being paid extravagantly for attempting to do the job Temple nurses and professionals were doing for a lot less money.  Temple refuses to talk about replacement compensation.  But they seem to think the issue is what they pay their staff.  

Temple nurses and allied professionals are losing financially during this struggle.  We are the ones taking the risk with our financial security, but we are doing the right thing.  We are already winners by fighting the good fight.

It's ironic that here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of liberty, Temple Hospital's lead negotiator told Temple nurses that "if you want constitutional rights, go somewhere else."  Ben Franklin said that those who would trade freedom for security, deserve neither.  

Ed Boyle, RN April 8, 2010 5:26 PM
Philadelphia PA

Temple continually states that this strike, that Temple has forced us to take, is about wages and benefits. But it is really about control and power for Temple.  Temple’s lack of a fair negotiations is about leaving only one recourse, strike, and hope that many of our professional colleagues will not honor our position. They have clearly gambled wrong. After a week of strike, our membership remains 97% united and on strike, which Temple provoked.

If this were all about the money, then why would the Temple proposal contain a gag clause preventing professional under penalty of termination from speaking in advocacy for their patients even when the state law requires it?

If this were about money, then why would the Temple proposal contain language that about union rules for membership that would allow Temple to pressure staff into resigning their membership throughout the duration of the contract?

If this were about money, we are they willing to spend many millions of dollars to pay imported strike breakers to fill our positions, at many more times the amount of money it would cost to settle this contract?

If this were about money, why does Temple have one of the highest paid executive staff in the country, including over $600,000 for Ann Weaver Hart, President of Temple University plus a luxury condo in center city and a car for convenience and another $75,000 for discretionary expenses? Or over $2,000,000 plus living expenses for Ed Notebeardt, University Vice president and hospital CEO, brought in specifically to engineer this strike and union busting activity.

Remember, in this country we still have freedom of speech rights and that is was unions that elevated the living conditions for the working class. If a large public funded academic healthcare institution is allowed to oppress the working class this way, we all need to fearful.

Thank you Temple for showing us all, the oppressive arrogance of your administration.

Jim McCarthy, CRNFA April 8, 2010 10:20 AM

We didn't just walk off the job! I worked the night before the strike, and let me say that it was difficult for me to leave those babies. To allow a stranger to take care of them, to have a relationship between parents and myself be taken away!  This is America and we have rights, freedom of choice and freedom of speech.  When your freedom is going to be tampered with or taken away you need to stand up for what you believe in!

I have been a nurse(both adult and neonatal critical care) for 11 years at Temple.  I have been employed at other hospitals as well, never has any hospital treated nursing with disrepect and unprofessionalism.  We have a union for a reason, maybe if administration actually knew something about what it's staff and employees do on a day to day basis, then we would have things different. I am fighting for myself, my co-workers and my daughters rights and concerns.  We have been willing to negotiate since day one, Temple made a choice not to bargain with us!  This is where it has left us!

susan , neonatal intensive care - registered nurse, tuh April 8, 2010 8:26 AM
philadelphia PA

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