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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: September, 2012

POSTED: Friday, September 28, 2012, 7:15 AM

Imagine that you are a community health worker visiting a woman who has missed a couple of doctor's appointments. While sitting in her living room, you notice something disturbing. Just above her wrist are a series of bruises, spaced so they look like they were caused by someone roughly grabbing her arm. There's more. She's in pain, limping badly and seems very despondent. She says she has fallen lately. Maybe something is broken. 

Now what? It looks a lot like domestic violence. Should the health worker bring it up? What should be the response? That was one of the scenarios experienced by the students in the Temple University Hospital community health worker program I wrote about in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently. The students were tested, one-on-one, with "standardized patients," people trained to act out scenarios or illnesses so doctors and health care providers can practice. The goal in this case was to get the woman to agree to see a doctor. 

I watched some of these from the other side of a one-way mirror and I also listened to a debriefing later. Almost all the students picked up on the possibility of domestic violence, but not everyone brought it up in the conversation. I saw a 20-year-old young man attempting to counsel this woman, a prospect that horrified me. Talk about rushing in where angels fear to tread.

POSTED: Monday, September 24, 2012, 6:05 AM

About 150 miles away from Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Delta Health Alliance in Washington County, Mississippi uses community health workers to handle some of the same problems found in our Philadelphia. (Read my article in today's Inquirer here.)

"The Mississippi Delta is one of the poorest areas in the country," said Jane Calhoun, an official with the health care organization. "We're a very impoverished area. We have a low literacy level, a lot of uninsured among our population, obesity, diabetes. We’re in the stroke belt. There's a lot of cardiovascular disease and hypertension."

Unlike our Philadelphia, where there's almost a hospital on every corner, health care facilities are a few and far between and there's a chronic shortage of providers. It's so bad, Calhoun said, that until they trained community health workers, there was no one to talk over diabetes care with the diabetics themselves. "They may have been told how to do the insulation injection and then hope that they grasped it." Health education for diabetics consisted of a printed handout, sometimes written in medical legalese by the pharmaceutical companies selling the insulin, not in language that someone with an elementary school education could understand.

POSTED: Thursday, September 13, 2012, 11:36 AM

I wish the word "management" had fewer letters, because then maybe, it would show up in headlines along with "union" or "labor," nice short words to top a one-column article. What bothers me so much about the news and commentary on unions is that people forget that contracts are involved. 

At some point in the employer/employee relationship, managers from the business or enterprise and union leaders representing workers come to an agreement on a contract. While negotiating, each side brings to bear whatever strengths and tactics it has. Is this a surprise? This is how it works in every contract or relationship, from buying a car to being married. However, unlike marriage, once an agreement is reached in workplace negotiations, it is put into writing. At that point, it becomes just as much a management contract as a union contract. 

It's a contract, period.  

POSTED: Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 10:05 AM

Premiums for employer-sponsored health care rose 4 percent for families in 2012, up to $15,745. Single coverage rose 3 percent to $5,429. The good news is that the price retreated from 9 and 8 percent hikes in 2011, when, it appears insurers were busy setting up their plans to accommodate the changes based on the Affordable Care Act.

This statistic comes courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust which produces an annual report. Some headlines are perpetual stunners, and chief among them the depressing chart that shows the increase in health insurance premiums compared to the increase in wages and inflation. Since 1999, premium costs are up 180 percent, with employee share up 172 percent. But wages haven't gone up that fast. Wages are up 47 percent since then, with inflation at 38 percent. In 1999, family coverage cost $5,791, with single coverage at $2,196.

There are many other interesting statistics in the report and you can read more in my story in Wednesday's Inquirer. I'll put the link in later. Here's a little geeky one that probably won't make it into the newspaper.

POSTED: Friday, September 7, 2012, 4:15 AM

If you want to test a union leader's commitment to the labor movement, watch what happens when members of the union's staff attempt to form a union and the union itself becomes management.

In 2010, unions were still holding out hope that the Employee Free Choice Act wasn't entirely dead in the water. That act would have required employers to accept a union as their workforce's bargaining agent if the union could produce signed cards from a majority of a company's employees. The card-check method would bypass the normal election process -- the idea being that workers could avoid the frequent employer intimidation that comes with a union drive. Management groups objected, saying that absent elections, workers would be intimidated into joining unions.

That's the larger issue. Here's what happened at 1199C when the union's own organizers organized themselves into a union and presented union president Henry Nicholas with the appropriate number of signed cards. Nicholas, who counts Martin Luther King Jr. as a friend, and who has a long history with the civil rights movement and the labor movement, turned them down.

POSTED: Thursday, September 6, 2012, 4:05 AM

To union officials involved in a last-minute standoff with Jefferson University Hospital's management team on June 30, it seemed like a strategic tour de force. Naturally, a management lawyer didn't see it that way.

If you like the give-and-take of labor negotiations, you'll like this story. Let's review. 

On midnight Saturday, June 30, contracts involving 4,725 1199C workers at four hospitals and eight nursing homes would expire. Picketing was set to begin at 6 a.m. on July 1, with the idea that workers at institutions that had settled would join their union brethren on the picket line in their off-duty hours. By the time Friday rolled around, all the contracts but Jefferson's had settled and that was running into serious problems in back-and-forth bargaining at the Sheraton Downtown Hotel in Center City. 

POSTED: Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 3:45 AM

In the recent round of contract talks involving Philadelphia's major hospitals and eight nursing homes, Chris Woods was a key player on the union side of the bargaining table representing 1199C. Word around the union hall is that Henry Nicholas, 76, the union's longtime leader, considers Woods to be the heir apparent.

I asked Nicholas' longtime lieutenant, Peter Gould, how he feels about Woods anointment, especially since Gould wasn't the one to get Nicholas' nod, despite years of service.

You can read more about Woods and Nicholas' thinking in my story in Wednesday's Inquirer and a longer profile of Henry Nicholas, with a video about his relationship with Martin Luther King Jr., that ran in Sunday's Inquirer.

POSTED: Tuesday, September 4, 2012, 3:20 AM

Need yet another political story today with the Democratic convention in full swing? Here's one from a time just four years ago, when there was a true battle for the Presidency between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that featured two labor leaders butting heads in Philadelphia. 

Both candidates, of course, wanted to court the labor vote, particularly in Pennsylvania,  which was considered pivotal to the ambitions of both Obama and Clinton. Philadelphia union leader Henry Nicholas took it as an honor to introduce Barack Obama, then vying for the Democratic party's presidential nod, to his fellow union leaders at a convention of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in Philadelphia back in 2008.

Unfortunately for Nicholas, his boss, sitting in the back of the ballroom at the hotel now known as the Sheraton Downtown, didn't agree. "He was going like this," Nicholas said, making a cutting motion across his neck. Nicholas told me this story while I was interviewing him for a profile, which the Inquirer published on Labor Day.

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

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer