nurses.jpgThere’s supposedly a desperate need for nurses in this country. The demand is so great, we’re told, nurses have their choice of jobs and the money and benefits are flowing.

So why the heck are nurses going on strike!?

At 7 a.m. EST today, the nurses and other health care workers set up picket lines outside of Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

The 1,500 members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals went on strike because, they say, the hospital’s management was bargaining in “bad faith.”

Wow, the hospital administrators have balls given the demand for health care workers. Or is the much-hyped growing demand for health care workers, hyped by labor experts, the media, and even me on occasion, just a bunch of bull?

Basic economics tell us, if there’s a shortage of a certain type of worker those workers in that particular field have the upper hand.

Is the management at Temple just dumb, or just a bunch of greedy bastards, or is the demand not as great as everyone has been touting.

The Temple health care workers have some basic demands, according to, the website for the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper:

Points of contention between the two sides are pay raises, the cost of health insurance, tuition benefits for employees’ children, a gag clause that prevents employees from publicly criticizing Temple and random drug testing.

These demands should be easy for these sought-after workers to win, no?

Well, turns out they are not. The nurses, et al., have been without a contract since September.

The parities involved have even been working with a state mediator to no avail.

The Philadelphia Business Journal quoted Sandra L. Gomberg, interim executive director and CEO at Temple University Hospital, as saying:

The hospital’s “last, best” offer — rejected by the union Monday night — called for no increase for the nurses in the first year of a four-year deal, followed by annual increases of 2, 2 and 2.5 percent. Gomberg said the union is seeking increases of 3, 3.5, 4 and 4 percent over the four years.

According to Gomberg, Temple nurses earn on average $39.80 an hour, which she said is among the highest rates in the city. She said the union’s demands don’t reflect the current economic environment.

Hospital management thinks they have enough leverage not to give in to the workers’ demands.

So what’s the deal. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported: Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.

But maybe the numbers don’t tell the real story.

This from a Kaiser Health News story:

Not so long ago, nursing school grads had it much easier. Job opportunities exploded during the past decade. Facing a shortage of nurses, hospitals were eager to hire qualified nurses. No matter their specialty, nurses were virtually guaranteed a job wherever they pleased.

Nursing, even in hard times, was thought to be recession-proof.

That was before the recent economic collapse. Before current nurses who are hoping to ride out the recession put off retirement or filled full-time jobs – rather than convenient part-time work – to increase their incomes.

Nurses are facing many pressures, according to labor professor Gary Chaison from the Graduate School of Management at Clark University at Worcester, MA.

“Because they represent a major cost factor in running hospitals, there are pressures to reduce their role, to deskill them by having much of what they do assigned to lesser skilled lower paid workers, particularly orderlies and practical nurses,” he said.

“The nurses’ motto is ‘Every patient deserves a nurse’, meaning every patient should have the services of a qualified RN, not someone who was assigned RN work to cut costs,” he continued. “They also realize that with the new health care legislation there will be attempts by non-professionals (managers and accountants) to cut the pay of nurses, to assign mandatory overtime, and to take over staffing decisions that should belong to nurses as health care professions. It’s the classic fight between the ‘bean-counters (administrators) and professionals.”

As for why the nurses can’t get what they want, he said:

“I believe it’s an issue of gender and the nurses’ mission. Quite often management will take advantage of the willingness to serve and sacrifice and the reluctance to speak of nurses.

“Nurses are trained to serve (they were once called the ‘doctors’ handmaiden) and as a result hospital management often feel they can get nurses to accept low pay, long hours because nursing is a calling, an occupation for those willing to sacrifice. And because nurses are often women, hospital management often feel that nurses will not be assertive or ask for a strong voice (union representation) at work.”

Well, the Temple nurses must have manned up. They are out on a picket line right now.

So, I suppose, nursing may not be the surefire career we’ve all touted it to be. Or maybe these things just ebb and flow.

If overall, health care workers are truly in demand, the Temple strike is an ominous sign for labor, because if the workers there can’t get what they want is there hope for anyone else?

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