Nurses picket in protest of staffing levels at several Philadelphia hospitals

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Nurses hit the picket line outside several Philadelphia hospitals on Thursday demanding a fair contract.

Their union is negotiating a deal for about 1,400 nurses. They are protesting what they call unfair labor contracts with Hahnemann University Hospital and St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

"The reason we are here - there is only one reason - it is for our patients. That is why we are here. We want to give excellent care," said Sue Swift, nurse and president of the nurse's union at St. Christopher's.

The nurses are represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

They have been negotiating new collective bargaining agreements with their employer, American Academic Health System, for months with no deal.

Nurses say they say they need more workers to care for patients.

"The main focus of our bargaining has been to get staffing language in our contract which actually means that we have enough nurses to take care of our patients safely," said Sue Bowes, a nurse and union president for Hahnemann University Hospital.

So far, they have not been able to agree on the terms of a new contract, but both sides agree that what really matters is quality care for patients.

Hahnemann University Hospital says it continues to negotiate in good faith and released a statement that says in part, "The informational picketing is not impacting patient care in any way. All hospitals departments and nursing units, as well as all of our services at our physician offices (on and off campus), are operating safely."

Those on the picket lines stress this is not a strike, but an informational picket so the community understands what's going on inside the hospital.

They say they are committed to patient care but stress that without the proper staff, patient care suffers.

"Right now we are sort of being held hostage for caring for as many patients as we possibly can, which reduces costs for the hospital but it is unsafe. That's how medical errors happen, and that's how patients get hurt," said Hahnemann nurse Dylan Toolajian.

Many nurses say they hope an agreement is reached soon and a strike won't be necessary.

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