Friday, December 6, 2013

First Person: Strike

We knew it was coming.  The union provided plenty of notice.  Unionized nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital said they were walking off the job Tuesday morning and it was my job to be there when it happened.

The first step was to prepare a couple short pieces for Newswatch 16 This Morning, giving viewers a brief idea of the issues that brought us to this point.  Done.  Photographer Dave and I jumped in to one of our mobile newsrooms extra early for the trip to the hospital.

If you're familiar with the area around the hospital, parking is at a premium-- especially if you're in a big van, with a mast that rises in the air.  You not only have to find room on the street.  You have to avoid wires above.  One of the hospital's parking lots was a simple solution, but the hospital didn't want us on their property.

The morning broadcast went smoothly.  Then, the appointed hour arrived.  7 AM.  The start of the walk out.
Yes, I know the shot isn't the greatest.  I used the spare camera I keep in my bag, and it's not good  in low light.

The union really had its act together.  The walk out was visual, with plenty of signs.  It was also filled with the sound of striking nurses chanting.  The union's public relations person made sure nurses were available.  It provided human faces to go along with the facts surround the strike.

The hospital's owner went a different route.  No one was available to go on camera.  We were issued a polite warning about photographing and interviewing on hospital property.  The hired security guards knew the sidewalk is public property, and we weren't bothered as long as we stayed on the concrete.  Security didn't complain when we cut across the parking lot to take a short cut back to our truck. Management provided several news releases, so we had the hospital's point of view, and both sides were presented.  Still, I have to say the first round in the public relations war went to the union.  I have a feeling the PR aspect of this really doesn't concern management all that much.  Two big companies essentially control health care around here, and when you have a guaranteed customer base, public relations is not among your primary concerns.

I produced a balanced report for our noon newscast.  Bill Wadell introduced it from the noon union rally, and he continued coverage fore the rest of the day.

I noticed the buses used to transport the replacement nurses lined up in front of the Hilton on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  I'm sure the replacements are spending some of their off hours wandering about the Electric City, so in a strange way, it's a boost to the economy.

As with every labor dispute, it's sad it had to come to this, and I'm not taking sides.  It's time for reason, common sense, and just plain decency to jump front and center.