Health-care issues got scant attention at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, but outside the hall, a wave of labor victories at area hospitals showed the business of medicine is getting an injection of union action; medical workers who are sick of seeing their care devalued are building resistance to an epidemic of corporatization.
Nurses at Hahnemann Hospital, part of the for-profit hospital chain Tenet, voted in January to unionize with the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals (PASNAP) by an 82-percent majority in a National Labor Relations Board election, winning representation for roughly 850 nurses. Another unionization followed for hundreds more nurses at another Tenet facility, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
Around the same time, about 330 nurses and dozens more support staff at Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill held two successful union votes. The victories established collective bargaining units just ahead of a takeover of the hospital’s parent organization by another for-profit chain, Prospect Medical Holdings.
In April, nurses at Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center voted to unionize following a hard-fought organizing drive, during which nurses decried dismal and unsafe working conditions. Organizers also clashed with the management’s anti-union campaign in which nurses were reportedly dragged into “captive audience” meetings with anti-labor consultants acting as propagandists to discourage them from organizing.
According to PASNAP’s surveys of recently organized nurses, about seven in ten respondents “reported never having adequate staffing”; just four in 100 reported that “they always had safe staffing.” About 70 percent reported not having adequate break times, which are linked to continual understaffing and overwork.
Speaking after an intense shift that left him exhausted, Einstein nurse Kevin Chilton recalled having to leave the next shift with an even heavier burden, since it was even more short-staffed than his had been.