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Unionized Pa. health care workers find new bargaining strength in the wake of COVID-19

Jason Laughlin, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Temple University's unionized health care workers secured a new contract this month that made its nurses the highest paid in Pennsylvania, while lowering their patient loads and enhancing security 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 contract negotiations in 2023 at Einstein Healthcare Network, which was acquired by Thomas Jefferson University in 2021. "They have been our big sisters, our mentors as we've been unionized."

Temple's new three-year contract, approved the night before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, showcases how the health care labor movement has emerged from the pandemic energized and aggressive.

High demand for nurses and a worker shortage enabled the union representing Temple's nurses and the technical workers required to run x-ray machines and other hospital equipment played hardball — even voting to authorize a strike — to win long-coveted concessions.

The new contract requires the hospital to add another nurse to a unit when certain patient census thresholds are exceeded. The hospital must give nurses significant additional pay if it can't meet the staffing standards, and the standards can only be ignored if both hospital administration and a union representative agree a health emergency warrants it.

 

Givan called the staffing requirements particularly strong.

Temple also agreed to place weapons detectors and security personnel at every hospital entrance, and retool how it reviews workplace violence incidents so that victims voices are heard.

Today's tight labor market likely helped Temple's health care union at the bargaining table, said Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University.

"All those factors have led nurses to get serious about their demands in taking collective action," she said.

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