The Pennylvania union, known as PASNAP, typically spends 35 percent to 40 percent of its annual budget, or about $500,000, on organizing, said Bill Cruice, executive director of the union based in Conshohocken.
Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California group, said the merger would enable PASNAP to increase the organizing budget by "what ever it takes," without being specific. "We have a considerable amount of more resources," she said.
The combined union will represent 80,000 nurses in all 50 states, union officials said.
Pennsylvania had 203,856 registered nurses as of Dec. 31, according to the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. The bureau does not track how many of those nurses work in accute-care hospital.
A union competitor to PASNAP, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, represents 8,000 registered nurses, according to spokeswoman Lisa Williams
Gerald Katz, of Kurt Salmon Associates, a health-care consulting firm with an office in Plymouth Meeting, said the merger of PASNAP into the California group occurred in the context of a consoldiating health care industry. "The unions need to get bigger to have more leverage to deal in that kind of environment," he said.
The Pennsylvania group represents nurses at 14 hospitals in the state, including four in the Temple University Health System, Crozer Chester Medical Center in Chester, and Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby.
Several of the hospitals whose nurses are represented by PASNAP are in low-income areas where a large percentage of patients are on Medicaid or Medicare, putting them under severe financial pressure.
At Temple, for example, 78 percent of patients were on some form of government insurance in the year ended June 30. During that year, Temple cut 500 jobs and made other money-saving changes that helped it swing from a $20 million operating loss in fiscal 2006 to a $20 million profit in fiscal 2007.
Cruice disputed the suggestion that his union represented workers at hospitals that tended to be financially weak. "Hospitals represented by PASNAP sometimes do well and sometimes don't," he said.
Cruice said the nurse's scale at Crozer Chester, for example, runs from $25 an hour to $46 an hour for a nurse with 25 years experience. At a non-union hospital, he said, the typical range is $25 to $38 an hour.
A top priority is getting a law passed in Pennsylvania to regulate nurse-patient ratios in various hospital units, union officials said. California is the only state that has such a law. The final step in its phase-in was completed this week.
A bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would establish such ratios. For example, it would require one registered nurse for every two patients in all critical-care areas.
"We absolutely plan to push for this law in Pennsylvania," said Patricia Eakin, president of PASNAP and a registered nurse in the Temple University Hospital emergency room.
Mark Pauly, a professor of health care systems at the University of Pennylvania's Wharton School, said adding staff likely improves hospital care, but paying for it is difficult for many cash-strapped hospitals. "They can't be pushed very far," he said.
Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or email@example.com.