Chestnut Hill health care workers rally for better wages, benefits

 Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown speaking at Wednesday's rally. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown speaking at Wednesday's rally. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

More than 100 healthcare workers and supporters marched down Germantown Avenue Wednesday afternoon to rally for better benefits and higher pay from Chestnut Hill Hospital. 

The workers — a mix of transporters, nurse aides, phlebotomists, secretaries, surgical technicians and others — are currently negotiating their first contract with the hospital after forming a union with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania in June. 

Seeking better pay

“We are trying to get Chestnut Hill [Hospital] to bring our pay up to par compared to everybody else’s in the city of Philadelphia,” said Gary Canada, a nurses assistant who has worked at Chestnut Hill Hospital for 23 years. “[We’re also] trying to get a little bit more staffing when it comes to the care of the patients.”

“When I started at Chestnut Hill [Hospital], it was a great hospital. Now, it’s a good one.”

Canada noted that he has seen a steady march of co-workers leave Chestnut Hill for higher pay at other area hospitals. 

Chestnut Hill Hospital spends 5 percent less on wages and benefits than the average Pennsylvania hospital, according to an analysis run by SEIU.

Post-march rally

The half-hour march concluded at the hospital entrance. There, speakers including City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Rev. Beverly Clayburn of the Straight Gate Church of the Living Word addressed the crowd. 

“Hospital workers provide services that hit close to home,” said Reynolds Brown. “Therefore, we have a vested interest in their success. They care for our mommies and daddies, nanas and grandpas, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews.

“In our times of need, we count on them to give 100 percent of themselves. In return, we need to fully support them as they seek to provide for their own loved ones.”

Getting ‘called off’

Nurses assistant Shelly Ellison, who is on the bargaining committee, said in addition to wages and benefits, she was seeking fairer treatment on days when the hospital’s beds aren’t being filled. 

That’s when workers are “called off,” and asked not to come in. They have the choice of going without pay or using their vacation days, Ellison said. 

“It’s just not fair. I love my co-workers, the patients are excellent. I love what I do,” she said of her 16 years on the job. “We just want to be treated fairly.”

What’s next

The union will head back to the negotiating table for two days next week. 

“The morale is kind of low…we have to see if we can make them take us seriously,” said Canada, who serves are on the bargaining committee. “Hopefully Chestnut Hill [Hospital] will be a little more receptive of what we are asking of them.”

When called for a response, Chestnut Hill Hospital spokeswoman Catherine Brzozowski responded with an email which read, “Chestnut Hill Hospital is operating as usual today and our top priority is the care and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. All inpatient, outpatient and emergency services are available and all surgeries and diagnostic procedures are continuing as scheduled.”

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