St. Christopher’s nurses latest to unionize in Philly region

     (file photo)

    (file photo)

    Nurses at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children are the latest workers to join the region’s healthcare labor union.

    Registered nurse Maria Plano works in the special care unit at St. Christopher’s. She says she and colleagues are juggling too many patients.

    “Our issue is: that’s not safe for the patients — and we are talking children and infants, the most vulnerable population, kids that are truly sick and need really attentive nurses,” Plano said

    About 500 nurses affiliated with St. Christopher’s will join clinicians from Hahnemann University Hospital and Delaware County Memorial; those groups became part of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals earlier this year.

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    Plano says staffers have asked for better nurse-to-patient ratios for a long time.

    “For whatever reason Tenet is saying, ‘it’s not in the budget now, we can’t replace the nurses you lost, you’re just going to have to make do,'” she said.

    In emailed statements, officials with Hahnemann and St. Christopher’s said they would work toward a mutually beneficial agreement. Both medical centers are owned by Tenet Health, a for-profit hospital operator.

    “Hahnemann respects the decision of our nurses to be represented by PASNAP,” said Michael Halter, CEO of Hahnemann University Hospital.

    “Our focus will continue to be, as it always has been, to provide those who come to us for care with excellent, high-quality treatment thanks to the help of our skilled nursing staff,” he said in the written statement.

    Experts say unions see growth potential in the healthcare sector while other industries, such as manufacturing, are shrinking and sending jobs overseas.

    “Unions have decided that health care is their future,” said David Rittof, president of Modern Management, Inc. It’s a labor/employee-relations consulting firm in Chicago.

    His company offers alternatives and education to employers and workers when a unionizing effort is underway.

    Rittof says unions ultimately make the labor market more expensive for everyone.

    He says in healthcare a union push often begins with complaints about patient and personal safety — ‘which may be legitimate’ — but those issues often shift quickly.

    “At the end the day, what unions really bargain about at the table are things like wages and benefits, it often turns to that because that’s what they can discuss at length and ad nauseam,” Rittof said.

    2016 has been a good year for PASNAP’s push to increase its numbers.

    Association executive director Bill Cruice says federal rule changes have made it harder for hospitals to force a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board in the run-up to a union vote.

    “Often raising frivolous issues for the sole purpose in creating a delay in the timing of the election, that can no longer happen in most circumstances,” Cruice said.

    David Rittof has a different take on the impact of the new rules. He says a longer run-up to a union vote is better.

    He says there’s now a condensed window between the day a union petitions for an election and the days of the employee vote—from about 40 days–down to 20 or even 14 days.

    “That significantly reduces the amount of time that employees have to seek both sides and make an informed choice,” Rittof said.

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