Hospital nurses in Philadelphia are ready to go on strike amid a surge of coronavirus cases across the country, according to the union.
The union said in a statement that 800 members of the union at St. Mary Medical Center are planning to picket on Tuesday and Wednesday.
One of the main sticking points is minimum staffing levels, which is the proportion of patients to nurses in a hospital.
“Safe staffing is the main issue in our negotiation--it's why we organized last year in the first place,” says Kathy McKamey R.N., who works on St Mary's MG2 unit and has been at the hospital for 10 years, said in a statement provided by the union. “Trinity has refused to commit to the minimal safe staffing guidelines every study out there has said improve patient outcomes. But the truth is, even if they had, we don't have the staff to fill them because our wage scale is so far below that of area hospitals. Nurses are literally fleeing to other hospitals 20 minutes away where they can make $6 to $7 more an hour. My unit alone has lost 20 nurses since January; the perioperative areas have lost 35 nurses in the last year. The grids are meaningless if you can't find nurses to fill the spots."
Adding to nurses’ concern is the possibility of having to report to work while infected with the coronavirus. Last week, the state of North Dakota called upon asymptomatic nurses to remain on the job amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of nurses.
“Nurses working across all health care settings and specialties are essential to combating COVID-19,” wrote Tarik Khan and Betsy M. Snook of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association in a joint statement released Monday. “Unfortunately, nearly 400 nurses in the United States have died due to COVID-19, and many others have been infected and hospitalized. This lack of protection for our nurses is unacceptable. Nurses and health care workers who are risking their lives, and the health of their own families, deserve better.
“They deserve all of the PPE, testing, supplies, and safe staffing they need to fight COVID-19 and, if they contract the virus, all of the rest that is required to mend and fully heal. Health care organizations should use all other staffing resources for replacement providers so that those nurses who test positive for COVID-19 can get the required rest to recuperate.”
Hospitals in the Philadelphia area told the Philadelphia Inquirer that they would hire replacement nurses to work if the union goes on strike.
"We respect the union members’ right to strike, and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach agreement on a fair, consistent and sustainable initial contract for St. Mary nurses. We look forward to the day productive negotiations can resume," said a statement from Trinity Health.
Coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania reached record levels last week, topping 5,000 cases in a single day for the first time since the start of the pandemic. In response, the city of Philadelphia announced on Monday plans to close indoor dining, gyms and museums in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus.