Incensed over benefit cut, Temple staff pickets

Posted: April 02, 2010

Shouting slogans and hoisting placards, hundreds of Temple University Hospital nurses and technical employees walked a picket line Thursday amid a standoff over management demands for benefit cuts and other union concessions.

Some 1,500 nurses and technical staff walked off their jobs on Wednesday, incensed that the hospital had eliminated a popular tuition assistance program and had failed to add nurses in what they described as understaffed units, among other grievances.

"It's a matter of respect," said nurse Lisa Antenucci. "They broke the contract that we had, and we don't feel they will keep the contract that we will get."

The hospital, which brought in 850 replacement workers to staff the hospital during the strike, said that patient care had been unaffected and that the hospital was providing all of its normal services on Thursday.

Rebecca Harmon, spokeswoman for the Temple University Health System, said the tuition benefit, for dependent children, had been eliminated for all hospital employees, including the striking members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals (PASNAP). She said the employees themselves still were eligible for the tuition benefit.

"This is not something that applies only to PASNAP; this is throughout the house," Harmon said.

The nurses and technical staff, who have been working without a contract since September, marched outside the hospital with placards that read "We Demand Respect and Recognition" and "Nurses On Strike For Respect." Motorists periodically sounded their horns in encouragement.

The nurses have warned that bringing on new staff will cause patient care to suffer. But a brief tour of the hospital Thursday revealed no obvious sign of dysfunction. At a nursing station on the fifth floor of the hospital's west wing, three nurses sat in front of computer monitors as physicians strolled unhurriedly past.

In a waiting area on the first floor, one young woman who declined to give her name, had brought her father in for a blood test. She said the wait seemed unusually long, about an hour and half. But the atmosphere in the room, indeed, throughout the hospital, seemed calm and orderly.

Harmon said there had been no contact between hospital management and the union, although she said that the hospital had been in contact with a state appointed mediator. Both sides said they had no indication when direct talks might begin.

Contact staff writer Chris Mondics at 215 854 5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com.

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