The negotiations started in April. The contract expired in June. The strike began Sunday.
Since then, nurses have been trading shifts, marching on a sidewalk just outside of Crozer-Chester Medical Center. They’re wearing red, cheering as cars drive by and honk, and waving signs.
“Skilled nurses at your bedside, priceless,” said one.
“RNs on strike protesting unfair labor practices,” proclaimed another.
“Crozer nursing, united for safe staffing,” one declared.
With management and staff at growing odds over benefits and staffing resources, organizers said it’s the first strike of registered nurses, now totaling 565, at the Crozer-Chester Medical Center in 25 years.
The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, the union representing Crozer’s nurses, said the walkout was a last resort, but working conditions have worsened over the years. Nurses are increasingly stretched thin, they said.
“We need to be taking better care of our patients,” said Jill Oconnor, a Crozer nurse of 25 years, from the picketline. “We are missing lunches, and we’re are doing the best that we can. They [patients] are getting good care here, but [management] keep pushing and pushing and we need more help.”
The hospital counters that staffing is more than adequate and improvements are in the works. The real point of contention in the bargaining room, according to Crozer spokesman Grant Gegrich, has been over benefits and salaries — salaries, which he said are already quite generous.
“Crozier spends more for nurse staffing than any comparably sized hospital in the area,” said Gegrich. “We have been very open since the beginning of negotiations that the severe and urgent financial challenges faced by our health system would require some wage reductions.”
The two parties are scheduled to meet again Tuesday. In the meantime, nurses hired from a Colorado temp agency are keeping Crozer open through Friday. That essentially extends what nurses had originally planned as a fixed, two-day strike until then.
Oconnor and other nurses say they’ll continue voicing their concerns outside on the picket line.