Why Nearly 1,200 Nurses Unionized Last Week

They complained about poor working conditions and fear for patient safety.



Nurses at two local hospitals say they’re fed up with poor working conditions, subpar equipment, ineffective scheduling and inadequate staffing. The environment is simply unsafe for patients, they say — and last week nearly 1,200 of them voted to unionize.

More than 330 registered nurses at Delaware County Memorial Hospital voted to join the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) union last weekend. Just days later, 850 nurses at Hahnemann University Hospital did the same.

Since its inception in 2000, PASNAP has gone from relative unknown to power broker in nursing contracts for a membership that now sits at approximately 6,400. Patricia Eakin, president of PASNAP and a registered nurse at Temple University Hospital, said “the main reason nurses call us is because they think they can’t do their jobs safely. They don’t really talk about money. They want to know if there’s hope to improve their working environment.”

At Delaware County Memorial Hospital (DCMH), nurses complained about being understaffed and how shifts are assigned — along with money matters like layoffs and frozen pensions, said Eakin.

“It’s been on a downslide over the past few years. On top of that, it was sold to a hedgefund. All together, that made them say it’s time to have a voice on the job,” she said. “In the past, it was a friendly, cozy, family, community atmosphere.” The term “hedge fund” may be a bit strong. DCMH owner Crozer-Keystone Health System was sold to Prospect Medical Holdings Inc. for $200 million in January. Prospect is a Los Angeles-based hospital operator with 13 hospitals, more than 2,200 licensed beds, and a network of 32 primary and specialty care clinics in Southern California, San Antonio, Texas and Rhode Island.

Hahnemann nurses had similar complaints regarding understaffing and equipment, according to Eakin. They also complained not being trained properly for times when they’re pulled off of their normal unit to work at another. For example, nurses on a step-down unit may not be trained for the emergency room or intensive care.

As for the contract negotiations (which are totally separate since the Hahnemann and DCMH nurses work at different health systems) both hospitals will create bargaining committees then begin contract talks with management.

A nurse typically makes in the $40-per-hour range and works at two or more facilities. Union dues cost 1 percent of a nurse’s gross pay, capping out at $66 per month.

Management did not appear happy in either case. Eakins described the folks at DCMH as “very nasty” and said they “hired a union-busting consultant.” In an email to me, a hospital spokesperson expressed dissatisfaction with the union vote, but said the facility is happy to work with the nurses going forward.

“We are disappointed in the results of this election, because we do not believe a union is in the best interest of DCMH, its nurses, or the community,” said Grant Gegwich, a spokesperson for Crozer-Keystone Health System which owns DCMH. “However, we respect the right of employees to choose union representation. After the results of the election are certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), we will meet with the union to bargain in good faith.”

Kristelle Brotman, an RN in labor and delivery at Hahnemann said in a statement that management tried hard to stop the union’s formation but “never took the time to actually address our issues or how to fix them.” A Hahnemann spokesperson declined to comment on alleged management pushback, but sent along a statement from CEO Michael P. Halter saying that the hospital “respects the decision of our nurses to be represented by PASNAP. We look forward to working with PASNAP to reach a mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreement.”

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