Sunday, April 25, 2010


The scene to the left was part of the late night news last night.   Fifteen hundred nurses, other professionals and technical workers from a large inner-city hospital in an area of Philadelphia where random shootings are frequent have gone on strike.  As in, refusing to do their jobs.  Not going to work.

In a time when unemployment is so high, when small businesses are closing right and left, when my friend told me yesterday that the company her husband works for is laying off 4000 people nationwide, these people are refusing to do their jobs.

The news reporter interviewed one woman who said that she was eating up her savings by being on strike.  She actually has savings to squander as she refuses to do her job.  Unlike another friend whose husband has been out of work for many months and is struggling to survive on unemployment compensation. 

I have never had a lot of respect for people who go on strike.  I've always thought, "If you don't like the conditions at the job you have, go work someplace else where you'll be happier." 

In the current job market, maybe these nurses, other professionals, and technical workers would have a bit of a hard time finding a job where they'd be happier.  But they are striking nonetheless.  They are refusing to work.  Possibly compromising the care and the lives of the patients in the hospital in this already depressed area of the city.  Refusing to work at a job that they accepted, knowing the conditions of employment at the time they took the job.  Choosing to march around carrying picket signs in a neighborhood where people would be grateful to have any job at all, much less a high-paying position that required a great deal of training.

Refusing to work.

I don't get it.


Dianne said...

I don't understand it either. I know that it seems to be more of a problem in the north than here in the south. Maybe because of the unions? We don't have many industries that have a really strong union influence down here...

Nanci said...

Well said. Unfortunately there's no way to get rid of the unions and the union mentality. If I were unemployed this would really feel like a slap in the face. People must think they are held at their jobs by gunpoint. They can leave any time and find a new and better job if it exists. I think part of the problem is our society is always looking for the perfect everything and perfect just doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for employees insisting on decent working conditions, but the difference between union and non-union pay and benefits is usually so ridiculous that it feels less like they're fighting for rights and more like they're blackmailing for privileges. What really gets me is the sign one of them is carrying that says "Nurses on Strike for Respect." It's tough to respect a nurse who is willing to walk away from a patient in need.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've never belonged to a union, but I live in an area that has a long union history, and I've become very pro worker, therefore probably pro-union. In our area, the unions became strong because the working conditions in the mines were really terrible, yet the bosses in the cities out east were living high off the hog.

There certainly has to be an give and take for current economic conditions, but lets not just blame the union workers if the people who are in management have good conditions, pay and benefits. For example, when there was the big to-do about Detroit getting a bailout, much was made of the car factories in the south that were non-union. The workers there make about the same wage as the union workers, but didn't get very many benefits at all. And who can afford to buy health insurance entirely on one's own? It is no coincidence that the states that have the least strong worker protections and unions also have the poorest health care markers.

My son moved to a "Right to Work" state in the south. Right to Work apparently means that the unions don't have so much power, so that people can work without having to join unions. It also means that there are few protections for the workers. He called one day from work, upset over something that was being required of him (he is in management) and asked me to look it up on the web. The state's own website for labor said, basically, that a company can demand any hours, any length of work week, and the worker doesn't have to get time off for any personal reasons, on and on. I was shocked at how pro-business the laws are.

BTW, his first job there last summer was in a restaurant at minimum wage. Turns out that minimum wage for waiters is $2.13/hour. Plus, tips, of course, but the tips are counted toward the regular minimum wage. He said that few people paid even 10% in tips, as most people in the whole area earn only regular minimum wage for most jobs. In my first job at a restaurant 44 years ago, I earned $2.00/hour.

Strikes are very divisive, but in some cases, it is the only way for workers to get someone to listen.

Of course, I don't know the back story to the nurses situation and strike. It may be really galling to those getting high bills for their medical care to see these nurses striking. At it may well be that the nurses union is making sure that essential care is still being covered.

anne bebbington said...

They've obviously been to France on holiday - when we lived there you could set your calendar by them - week A - the doctors, week B - the teachers, week C - the lorrydrivers etc. So much so this past week when so many UK residents have been desperately trying to get home across land because of flight stoppages (Icelandic ash cloud) the French train drivers went on strike - more amazingly the Ferry people didn't

Kim said...

I don't see people striking quite so often any more, but when I do, I always think they're nuts! Here in Sacramento, we have a lot of state workers, and I get tired of hearing them complain about having to take furlough days and have their pay cut--as far as I'm concerned, it's WAAAAAY better than losing their jobs altogether, right? Where does that sense of entitlement come from? Crazy!

wordmama said...

I have no idea about the real issues these people are striking about. I am a nurse, but I've never worked in a place that had collective bargaining or a union. So I have always been at the mercy of whatever the company wishes to do. In my state, the employee has no rights, as the previous poster also noted. Yes, I am glad to have a job, but more and more my "job" is being used by my employer as leverage for them to do anything they want. For most of my career I have daily been treated disrespectfully by the physicians who rely on me to remind them (several times) about what they should be doing for the patients. I don't want to strike, but I certainly would like a little more respect. I don't want to be thanked: I just want someone to really listen to me as if I had something important to say.

Guenveur in Kent said...

If some workers hadan't gone on strike back in the 30s, many workers would be a lot worse off today than they are. COmpared to the perks the fat cats rake in, the pay of the people who actually do the hands-on work is miniscule. Profits over people is the name of the game.These folks who work in hospitals in the inner city earn every penny they get. It's thanks to the unions that American workers get the benefits that eveyrone else now takes for granted.
Miners in West Virginia have been screwed in spite of the unions and the mine owners have gotten away with murder more than once.
It's not the unions' fault that American Big Business has brought the country to this state. People should be fuming about Walal Street and not some workers who think their work is worth more. I guess we could jusy let'em eatr cake.

Pat said...

These people demonstrated on the corner across from my office building in Center City last week. The ranting over the loudspeaker was horrific. To tell you the truth, it made me second-guess my respect for nurses, and considering that both my mother AND my son-in-law are nurses, that takes quite a bit of doing. Down the street is a large company that had "laid off" (that's the current euphamism for "wacked, fired,let go) over 1,000 people since late last year, my husband among them. I work with a group of 19 individuals -- 6 of us have husbands who have lost their jobs. I have no sympathy for these nurses whatsoever. The tide is turning against the demands of the unions that seem to demanding more and more when many of us have less and less. I wonder how concerned about the rank and file these union leaders are. Sorry to rant, but you hit a really raw nerve.

LizA. said...

I don't get it either. In the fall of 2008 Boeing machinists went on strike, one of the longest in their history. Because of that, the 787 was further delayed. Boeing made no money last year. The consequences of that strike, my husband and 1000 other I.T. guys have just been laid off. People like my husband who have 20 years and more with the company are now out of work because of the machinists strike 18 months ago. I don't get it.

Catsngrams said...

I am also in agreement with you. I do not understand why people cannot just be happy with where they are and relize how blessed they are just to have a job.

South Jersey Quilter said...

When nurses strike, it's not usually about money, but about patient safety. Hospitals have no trouble assigning nurses more patients than they can safely care for. They have no trouble saying you can't go home at the end of your shift because there's no one to relieve you. They have no trouble saying you have to work many days in a row. So I'd have to know the underlying issue.

Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

Backatch, Guenveur in Kent:

Actually, I know a little bit about work in inner city hospitals, having spent a couple of years as chaplain in two of them. I know the folks in the ERs are under great stress. Beyond that, the rest of the hospitals were much like the one in my middle class neighborhood.

If I wanted to write about Wall Street, I'd write about Wall Street. I really just don't want to get started on that.

Y'know, my pay increase last year was $480 and this year it is 1% again and I'm lucky to be getting a contract -- we've laid off people who are finding it very difficult to get another job because there are so many looking. These nurses are demanding free tuition for their children at the University the hospital is affiliated with. Refusing to go to work when so many people are out of work, compromising patient care in the process, because they think they should get what comes out to a $20,000 increase? Ma'am, I don't really think that has anything to do with eating cake.

You're generalizing where I'm talking about a very specific situation.

Guenveur in Kent said...

A reminder: Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support the garbage men's strike.

suz said...

I don't agree with strikes medical staff or teachers. However, there has to be something they can do when they are forced to work long hours and handle more than they should. There is usually a reason for a union to exist. It isn't always about money. I work in a non-union job. HR is constantly (as in weekly) changing our jobs for the worse. The changes are only to show the Sr. Bigwigs that they are doing something. No one cares that these changes are really detrimental to our work lives. Now we are all exhausted, demoralized and frustrated. We appreciate we are employed and we can't afford to be out of work because the only thing that didn't change this past year was our salary; actually, that's wrong, our insurance went up, so our salary went down - more work, less money ... but we are employed.
Maybe if those coal miners had gone on strike for better working conditions (they had good paychecks, which is one reason they didn't complain), the recent explosion wouldn't happen. Caution about attacking unions. When employees have no other recourse and can have no voice and work conditions are intolerable, they can strike and get someone's attention. Get the full story. Some unions have exhausted their usefulness. Some organizations should have them.

Andrew said...

Labor disputes are always difficult. Unions brought us the 8-hour work day, paid vacations, paid holidays, health insurance, and pensions. God gave us Sunday, but unions gave us Saturday. Their work today includes raising the minimum wage, providing universal health coverage to every American, and reforming a broken immigration/border security policy. However, they also negotiated untenable health coverage contracts with the Big Three in the 1960s, contributing to the downfall of those companies in recent years.

The beauty of the union is that it is the perfect contrast to employers. In a capitalist society employers correctly have the right to set pay and working conditions and hire their choice of employees. A single worker, especially in a poor economy, has little hope of changing the workplace. And they have little hope of being happier at another job since in many industries large employers tend to offer similar pay and benefits as their peers.

As you point out, "If you don't like the conditions at the job you have, go work someplace else where you'll be happier." Indeed. This group of workers was so unhappy with their job conditions, which they had hoped would soon improve, that they all did go someplace else. They chose to lose their paychecks over working. And the free market has enabled their employer to hire replacement workers – at a salary rate six times higher than the unionized staff.

It is crucial to consider exactly what pushes workers to go so far that they forgo their pay. Along with rejecting Temple’s last offer to double health care premiums for nurses, triple them for the technical/professional staff, and freeze wages for a year, this union is upset that Temple insists on a “non-disparagement” clause, which states that staff, “shall not publicly criticize, ridicule or make any statement which disparages or is derogatory of Temple.”

In the past, non-disparagement clauses of this ilk were designed to silence potential whistleblowers. What they really say is that if an employee finds unsafe conditions or nurse ratios that threaten patient safety, they are prohibited from speaking publicly about it. Obviously, they would be free to contact the appropriate regulator or authorities, who may shut down the hospital, begin an investigation, or do nothing. Meanwhile, as patients receive insufficient treatment, we are forced to wait for a government entity to determine that a practice is unsafe. Personally, I am fearful of my family receiving health care at a place that could be so awful the employees would like to speak out, but are prohibited from doing so. And I am skeptical of a company that is so afraid of its employees.