Temple University’s unionized health care workers secured a new contract this month that made its nurses the highest paid in Pennsylvania while reducing their patient loads and increasing safety to make them feel safer. while working at the Philadelphia hospital.
The state’s other organized health care workers are now looking to replicate their playbook.
“Temple has been amazing for us,” said Carla Lecoin, a neonatal nurse and labor leader for 900 nurses preparing for 2023 contract negotiations at Einstein Healthcare Network, which was earned by Thomas Jefferson University in 2021. “They’ve been our big sisters, our mentors as we’ve come together.”
Temple’s new three-year contract approved the night before Nov. 8 midterm elections, shows how The health care labor movement has emerged from the pandemic energized and aggressive.
High demand for nurses and shortage of workers enabled The union representing Temple nurses and technical workers required to run X-ray machines and other hospital equipment played hardball — even voting to authorize a strike — to win long-desired concessions.
The new contract requires the hospital to add another nurse to a unit when certain patient enrollment thresholds are exceeded. The hospital must give nurses significant additional pay if it cannot meet staffing standards, and the standards can only be waived if hospital administration and a union representative agree that a health emergency requires it.
Givan called the staffing requirements particularly strong.
Temple also agreed to deploy gun detectors and security personnel at every hospital entrance and reshape how it handles incidents of workplace violence so that victims’ voices are heard.
Today’s tight labor market likely helped Temple’s health care unions at the bargaining table, said Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University.
“All of these factors have made nurses take their demands for collective action seriously,” she said.
Nurses are in high demand, Givan said, and have no problem finding other health care jobs to pay the bills if a contract dispute turns into a strike, as is threatened at Temple.
The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals and SEIU are the two largest nursing unions in the state, together representing approximately 17,400 registered nurses. There are nearly 238,000 active and licensed registered nurses in the state.
The pandemic exacerbated long-standing health care worker issues, triggering a wave of resignations and retirements that strained an already thin workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated approx 275,000 additional nurses will be needed between 2020 and 2030.
or March survey from the American Nurses Foundation found that 60% of acute care nurses were burned out and 75% described themselves as “stressed, frustrated, and exhausted.”
“Morale among nurses was very low,” said Mary Adamson, president of the Temple University Hospital Nurses Association. “They were very angry going into this campaign.”
The same sentiment is fueling a unionization movement at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. Mike Keyasko, a physical therapist, is in the process of organizing 350 hospital technicians, including rehabilitation workers, radiology technicians and pharmacists.
Before the pandemic, he said, similar efforts failed. This year has been different.
“I think everything that everyone has observed in their workday over the last couple of years has led people to ask: Why are we just accepting this?” Keyasco said.
Geisinger spokesman Matthew Van Stone said the hospital acknowledged the disappointment.
“Many of the challenges the union claims to have solutions to are statewide issues, and Geisinger is no exception,” Van Stone said in a statement, citing efforts to add staff.
Temple Hospital was ground zero for COVID care in 2020. Patients flooded the wards, forcing the hospital to convert a gymnasium and an outpatient ward into an overloaded COVID ward. Nurses tried to take care of seriously ill people, even though they feared for their health. Vaccines were not yet available and health care workers were physically and emotionally exhausted.
The pandemic was a turning point for nurses who felt Temple had had insufficient units for years, Adamson said. Patient loads remained high even as COVID cases waned.
“You leave work feeling like we let these people down,” Adamson said.
A Temple spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but after contract negotiations ended, the hospital’s statement described it as, “fair and equitable to all parties” and would improve staff recruitment and retention.
Concerns about workplace violence grew after a nursing assistant nearby Jefferson University Hospital was shot dead on the job in 2021.
Health care providers are among the most likely in the nation to be victims of workplace violence, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Carlos Jesus Aviles, an IT specialist and president of Temple Allied Professionals, described workers regularly finding their cars broken into in Temple parking lots on Broad Street, near some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.
Homeless people have found their way to the hospital and fallen asleep in the available beds.
“What’s happening unfortunately is that the environment has slowly but surely leaked into the hospital,” said Aviles, who is pleased the new contract mandates hospital to increase security in parking lots.