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Philadelphia-area health-care unions notched some wins — and some stalemates — this summer

One union secured a strong new deal with CHOP, another fought off another decertification effort at Pottstown, while a third staged a one-day strike for better health-care benefits at a nursing home.

Union workers held a one-day strike on Aug. 6 at ProMedica Skilled Nursing And Rehabilitation over a a spike in health-insurance costs.
Union workers held a one-day strike on Aug. 6 at ProMedica Skilled Nursing And Rehabilitation over a a spike in health-insurance costs.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

It’s been a busy summer for health-care labor unions in Philadelphia.

One union secured a strong new deal with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, another fought off a decertification effort at Pottstown Hospital, while a third staged a one-day strike for better health-care benefits at a Philadelphia nursing home.

CHOP’s five-year deal with District 1199C, which represents 1,200 workers at the main hospital who work in food service, custodial, and other departments, has wage increases of 2.5% to 3%. It also capped increases for health care coverage at 6% — a break considering that the cost had been going up 8.7% annually in recent years.

“In terms of wages and benefits, we really improved the contract,” said Chris Woods, president of 1199C, an affiliate of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. Woods was also happy that the union now has an easier path to adding CHOP employees outside the main hospital in University City to the union.

“CHOP is a growing employer,” Woods said. “It is 1199C’s largest employer, but there are a lot of satellite offices where employees of CHOP are doing the same work that our members are doing at the main hospital, but we haven’t been able to add them to the contract. But this time around, we had language put in there that allows us to do those kinds of things.”

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CHOP, which said it was pleased to have extended its contract with 1199C, is among the Philadelphia-area health systems that increased pay for many of its nurses to reflect market pressures and strong demand for nurses.

District 1199C’s talks with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital resulted in a punt — a one-year extension effective July 1 with a 2% raise. The union represents 800 at Jefferson’s flagship hospital in Center City, including some on the university side of the enterprise.

Jefferson and District 1199C agreed to a one-year extension, according to a union official, because Jefferson wants out of the badly underfunded Pension Fund for Hospital and Health Care Employees-Philadelphia and Vicinity. Jefferson is the biggest of about 20 contributors to the fund, paying $7.9 million in fiscal 2020.

Under normal circumstances, when companies want to get out of multi-employer pension plans, they face a significant withdrawal payment.

But this year’s American Rescue Plan Act provided an unprecedented bailout for such plans, making it unclear how much Jefferson would have to pay. To the union, it made little sense to fight over that contribution until it’s clear how much government help the plan might receive. The plans has 11,000 participants and a deficit of nearly $300 million, according to its latest regulatory filing,

In Northeast Philadelphia, another Jefferson hospital faces a unionization push by registered nurses. Nurses at Jefferson Frankford Hospital rallied on Aug. 13 in support of forming a union affiliated with the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, WHYY reported.

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“We’ve been understaffed for a number of years. We’re unable to retain nurses, for various reasons, including lower pay. We want a seat at the table. We want to help facilitate better care and treatment of our patients — and for ourselves,” Kevin Diamond, a Jefferson Frankford nurse, told WHYY.

Jefferson did not respond to a request for comment.

The registered nurses union, known as PASNAP, prevailed in an Aug. 5 decertification vote at Pottstown Hospital, where PASNAP represents 238 nurses. The vote was 122-63 in favor of staying in the union, which expects to start negotiating a new contract in the next few weeks.

The vote was the third attempt at the hospital to decertify the union since nurses there voted 189-129 to join PASNAP in September 2016.

SEIU Healthcare of Pennsylvania, which represents at least 5,000 nursing assistants and others at nursing homes, had a busy summer, negotiating new contracts covering 2,800 workers at 51 nursing homes in the state.

At ProMedica Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Center City, the work goes on. ProMedica, a nonprofit based in Toledo, Ohio, took over that facility, formerly known as PowerBack Rehabilitation, in April.

Since then, SEIU Healthcare has been trying to secure a contract for its members, staging a one-day strike on Aug. 6 over ballooning prescription drug costs, but no agreement has been reached.