Saturday, December 5, 2009

Temple Community Strengthens as PASNAP Struggle Continues

Submitted by Marie Ernaux on Thu, 12/03/2009 - 4:30pm

Tuesday evening, members of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) and union officials gathered together students, Temple staff and community members to educate the Temple community on the day-to-day realities of healthcare providers at Temple Hospital. President of AFSCME Local 1723 and Temple University Staff Paul Dannenfelser began the discussion by sharing that this was another chapter in the story of Temple University’s approach to Labor on campus. He shared that his union went through a similar two-year fight for a contract in which Temple University was “not only anti-union but anti-worker.” He expressed earnestly the energy of the room, saying, “The nurses’ fight is our fight, the student fight is our fight. We are all in this together.”

The panel of speakers consisted mostly of PASNAP nurses and allied professionals. Patty Eakin, an Emergency Room RN at Temple since 1983 and President of PASNAP, spoke about the importance of fighting for minimum nurse-to-patient ratios at Temple as well as state-wide. Recent studies by the US Department of Health and Human Services have shown that low nurse staffing levels have a direct impact on patient care and increase the likelihood of pneumonia, shock, cardiac arrest, and urinary tract infections ( Hospital Nurse Staffing and Quality of Care). Eakin put forward that the importance of fighting back dangerous policies is part of a nurse’s job description. She explained that as such Temple University’s attempts to establish a “Gag Rule” function in complete opposition to the role of a nurse, which is to advocate on behalf of patient safety.

Maureen May, a nurse for the past 25 years - the last 13 years at Temple’s Critical Care unit - and President of Temple Nurse’s Local, built upon Eakin’s comments. She shared how horrified she was when, after confronting Temple Hospital Management about the dangerously unsafe staffing levels of nurses, she was told, “Well [the nurse] will just have to do the best they can... [The patient] is just going to have to wait four hours.” She asked the crowd, “What if that was you, or someone you loved, who had to wait four hours for appropriate care?” May continued to express the important role nurses play as patient advocates and how their union gives them a protected voice to be able to fight for better standards of care. May added that PASNAP, after 10 years, is the strongest nurses’ union in the state and that Temple is attempting to establish policies to control and weaken the union’s strength. May ended her remarks by sharing feelings of solidarity with the students who came out to the support their struggle, “I’m excited to have this battle [with Temple]. We will certainly be there for you when your time comes.”

Three members of PASNAP’s Allied Professionals Local spoke about their struggles to become part of PASNAP and how those victories strengthened their relationships with nurses at Temple and their consciousness about what was at stake in the contract fight with the Temple Administration. Lorenzo Glover, a respiratory therapist at Temple for 14 years and Executive Board Member of the Allied Professionals Local, spoke about the day-to-day policies that put patients at risk and compromise healthcare providers’ control over care. Glover spoke of understaffing, lack of supplies paramount to care and how he experienced these policies as an explicit attempt by Temple to push out nurses active in the union. Selena Hodge, a Lab Technicion and Vice President of the Allied Professionals Local, spoke on the daily impact of profit-driven Temple Hospital policies. She shared that a big concern for members was Temple’s raising employees’ healthcare coverage costs to $300 a month. She felt that Temple was acting in a vindictive way in these bargaining sessions, behavior that she attributed to the strength of the Union at Temple. Hodge mentioned that Temple is no longer willing to extend tuition benefits to the children of Hospital staff but is willing to spend $3 million toward uniĆ³n-busting efforts. Hodge also finished her remarks on powerful note, “I sign my messages ‘Solidarity and Family’ because what Temple doesn’t understand is that we are a family, and when we’re outside we are all outside.”

Sarah Allen, executive board member of the Nurses’ Local, shared another policy that jeopardizes patient care while leaving nurses unable to fulfill their professional obligations. Allen talked about being floated to departments where she has little to no experience because of a narrow understanding by Temple management that nurses are exchangeable and not specialized. She also shared that with 12- and eight-hour shift rotations there will be four-hour windows in which staffing is extremely low. Recently, she shared, a nursing supervisor told her that her seventh patient could “just be put on a bed for two hours until more staff arrived.” Allen put this experience into context by adding that “patients admitted to Temple Hospital are very sick because the hospital only accepts very sick patients. Imagine if it was you being told to wait that long.” Like the other PASNAP members, Allen reaffirms, “[Our fight] is not about money, although we want a fair wage. We can’t provide the service patients need. It’s cruel and embarassing to not be able to provide the care because of lack of supplies.”

Students from the Temple College Democrats, Student Labor Action Project and the Temple Democratic Socialists were part of the coalition that Temple Nurses and Allied Professionals brought together to support their struggle. Dan Assaraf from Temple Democratic Socialists situated the Temple Nurses’ Union fight in the broader global economy and gave numerous examples of the impact of labor movement victories on the quality of life and labor standards for all people even outside of organized industries. Kate Harkin from the Student Labor Action Project encouraged students to hold Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart responsible for the bad faith bargaining that PASNAP articulated. She also joined with other student leaders to express the importance of joining the coalition of support for the Temple Nurses. Two Temple nursing students who were in attendance shared that they were encouraged by the community support as well as inspired by the strength and relevance of politicized healthcare providers.

As the event came to a close there was a strong sense of support and strength in the room. Lorenzo Glover reminded the Temple community members, “This is not about money. Temple University has tons of money. This is about power. They are trying to break the power of our union but we are not going to go away.”

courtesy of the Labor Blog |

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