‘We’re struggling to save lives’: Temple University Hospital employees stage picket over working conditions, low wages

Jamelia Norton, a telemetry technician of 23 years at Temple University Hospital, spoke of her experiences over the COVID-19 pandemic at a rally of nurses and supporters outside the hospital on Sept. 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jamelia Norton, a telemetry technician of 23 years at Temple University Hospital, spoke of her experiences over the COVID-19 pandemic at a rally of nurses and supporters outside the hospital on Sept. 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

At the corner of Broad and Ontario streets in North Philadelphia, a crowd of people wearing red T-shirts and holding picket signs marched back and forth in front of Temple University Hospital.

“One, two, three, four — ” a woman shouted into a microphone.

“Safe staffing on the floor!” the crowd yelled back.

“Five, six, seven, eight — ”

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“Temple must negotiate!”

Nurses at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia picketed on Broad Street during negotiations of a 3-year contract to raise awareness about issues of recruiting, retention and pay disparity, on Sept. 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Several hundred union nurses, health technicians, dieticians, and other workers staged an informational picket Friday to raise awareness in the community about what they call unsafe working conditions at the city’s largest general acute care hospital.

Two union groups affiliated with Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) are in negotiations with hospital leadership for new three-year contracts. Their current bargaining agreements expire Sept. 30.

“Who’s affected the most by this? Our community, our patients,” said Carlos Aviles, a pharmacy technician and president of Temple Allied Professionals. “It’s a sin the way we’re forced to do our jobs and be stretched thin and endanger patient safety, and not only patient safety, our own safety.”

Pharmacy tech and PASNAP representative Carlos Aviles said that he wants everyone who comes through the doors of Temple University Hospital to receive the best care possible. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Bargaining units from Temple Allied Professionals and Temple University Hospital Nurses Association (TUHNA), which together represent about 2,250 employees, began meeting weekly with hospital leadership in early August.

So far, progress in negotiations have stalled, said Mary Adamson, an ICU nurse and president of TUHNA.

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“What’s happening and what Temple is doing and what their plan is for this negotiation is to wear us down,” she said. “We all know that there’s an elite group of administrators and managers who have no idea what’s happening at the bedside … they have no idea what’s happening in the ER, or the OR, or the discharge lounges. They just don’t know.”

Temple University Hospital nurses president Mary Adamson (left with mic) and pharmacy tech and union representative Carlos Aviles (right), led a rally outside the hospital for a fair contract on Sept.r 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Temple University Health System officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Union workers said they’re asking the hospital to raise wages and improve benefits to attract new hires and retain existing staff.

Jamelia Norton is a telemetry technician and sits on the executive board for Temple Allied Professionals. She’s worked at the hospital for 23 years and said she’s seen too many coworkers leave for positions elsewhere.

Jamelia Norton, a telemetry technician of 23 years at Temple University Hospital, spoke of her experiences over the COVID-19 pandemic at a rally of nurses and supporters outside the hospital on Sept. 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“If you look at the other hospitals and see what they’ve done during COVID to retain their staff, they [Temple] should do the same,” Norton said. “We worked hard during COVID, we’ve lost a lot of our dear colleagues. If you want people to come in here and work, you have to give them what they need.”

Union groups are also asking the hospital to invest in more security and better safety protocols. They point to an escalation of workplace violence incidents at the hospital involving aggressive patients, visitors, and sometimes, just people who’ve walked in off the street.

“We have people sneaking in, we have our parking lots broken into every day,” Aviles said. “I want the community to know while we’re struggling to save lives, we really can’t even promise you a safe environment when you’re here just to get bloodwork, because the street is inside.”

Nurses at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia picketed on Broad Street during negotiations of a 3-year contract to raise awareness about issues of recruiting, retention and pay disparity, on Sept. 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Workers say they still hope to come to an agreement with the hospital and avoid the possibility of a strike, but are prepared to do so if negotiations fail.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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