Socialist Alternative

Philadelphia Hospital Workers Strike and Win

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By Marty Harrison, Executive Board Member of PASNAP, Member of Socialist Alternative’s National Committee (personal capacity)

The 28-day strike of 1,500 nurses and professional/technical staff, represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), beat back a long list of concessionary demands at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. Significantly, the hospital backed off its proposed “gag” clause which threatened staff with discipline and fines for any negative public statement about Temple. Further, the administration was forced to reinstate a limited dependent tuition benefit after illegally eliminating it unilaterally in March 2009. (For details on the settlement, see my May 21 article in labornotes.org).

How was PASNAP able to strike and win during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?

Get Ready and Stay Ready

The union began preparing the membership for the serious probability of an extended strike a year in advance. All that hard work paid off when 94% of the membership stayed united and outside the hospital for the duration of the strike. As it turned out, we were only as strong as our weakest link: had we been prepared to stay out longer, our settlement could have been even better.

Rely on Our Strengths

Two union locals worked together to maintain big, loud picket lines from 6am until 9pm every day. PASNAP organized rallies of over 1,000 members and supporters at the luxury condo of the Temple University President, at the law offices of the chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees and, of course, in front of the hospital. The picket lines and rallies emboldened the membership and demonstrated our unity and strength to the hospital.

A Little Help from Our Friends

PASNAP launched a comprehensive and competent solidarity campaign, reaching out to its natural allies in the labor movement and the community. Local unions sent money, staff, water, pizza, coffee, and members to walk the picket lines. Nurses unions from Massachusetts to California sent messages of solidarity and much needed resources. Temple University students and high school students from the Philadelphia Student Union supported the strikers. Leaflets outlining the primary strike issues were handed to patients at the entrance to the hospital and to passers-by on busy adjoining street corners.

Lessons of the Strike

This well-planned and executed strike ultimately fended off the worst of the hospital’s concessionary demands. What will it take to go forward in this legal and economic climate?

We must continue organizing drives at non-union facilities around the state to increase the union density of nurses and other health professionals.

The rigid legal confines within which we are currently forced to operate leave so little room to fight effectively. We have to challenge the employers politically to be able to once again launch effective workplace struggles. The legislative battles for mandatory safe staffing levels, for a single-payer health care system and for labor law reform must become priorities for every union member. And if we have to run our own candidates to support that agenda, independent of both major parties, we should not hesitate to do so.

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