Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Uneventful news is the news with Temple, unions

A week ago, an uneventful thing happened. And that's the news. The uneventful thing was the settling of a contract June 24 between Temple University Hospital and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. Remember last time? I do. It was the wildest strike I've ever covered.

Uneventful news is the news with Temple, unions

This photo was taken in April 2010 when Temple University Hospital nurses launched a strike in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
This photo was taken in April 2010 when Temple University Hospital nurses launched a strike in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

A week ago, an uneventful thing happened. And that's the news. The uneventful thing was the settling of a contract June 24 between Temple University Hospital and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

Remember last time? 

I do. It was the wildest strike I've ever covered.Temple's 1,500 nurses and allied professionals went out on "strike" for 28 days in April 2010. Every day was a new wrinkle and each one was more amazing than the one before it.

First of all, Temple paid millions of dollars to house replacement staffers at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel at 17th and Vine Streets. The replacement crew worked 12 hours shifts, six days a week, piling on overtime, all on Temple's tab.

Then, in an ironic coincidence, the union, PASNAP held its convention at the same hotel, at the same time! It wasn't intentional -- the event had been scheduled long before the walk-out. The Sheraton gets a lot of business from unions because it is the largest Center City hotel with union housekeepers and restaurant staff. So, it's interesting that Temple chose that hotel to house the replacement staffers. (The union had another name for them.) Not sure how much mingling there was at the bar!

The next thing that happened was that U.S. Rep. Bob Brady got involved and helped broker the deal that settled the strike. That was probably the most usual part of the strike. The workers went out March 31, picketing until an April 27 settlement.

Finally, after the nurses and staff returned to work, they filed for unemployment benefits.

And they got them -- as much as $1.5 million. Why? Because, as it turned out, the strike was actually a "lockout." It had to do with the status of a tuition benefit and the union's willingness to continue to work during some portion of the talks. It's complicated legally, but the upshot was that the nurses walking the picket line received unemployment benefits.

Oh, but there's more. Temple had to pay the freight. Like many large employers, Temple was self-insured for unemployment benefits. That means that instead of paying into the state's unemployment insurance fund, the employer agrees that it will pay unemployment benefits to its employees if it lays them off. Safe bet, usually, since hospitals don't usually lay off many people.

But not that time. Temple had to pay all the benefits -- a hefty tab on top of the millions it had to pay for replacement workers.

It took a couple of months for that unemployment benefits decision to come down, but it was only a matter of days for one more shoe to fall.  Temple University Health System announced that its president and chief executive Edmond F. Notebaert would leave to pursue other interests.

In this go-round, Temple's nurses and staffers got raises and improvements in patient-nurse ratios. They even settled the contract early. It was set to expire in September: A delightfully uneventful resolution. 

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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