Nurses Strike for Patient Care and Higher Wages in New England

RI NURSES

Nurses, medical workers, and family members picket, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, in front of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) The Associated Press

Two different Nurses’ unions struck hospitals in Burlington, VT and Providence, RI for higher wages and better staffing.  Both strikes were called for two days to demand hospitals negotiate in good faith to improve nurses’ wages in order to improve staffing levels for better patient care.

Nurses at two Rhode Island hospitals, Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital, which are next door to one another, went on strike Monday, July 23, 2018, after negotiators couldn’t agree on contract terms during a meeting requested by a federal mediator.   Local 5098 of the United Nurses and Health Professionals (UNAP) called the two-day strike of 2400 nurses and other hospital employees to demand that the owner Lifespan stop delaying.  The union may take another vote to authorize an extended strike at Rhode Island Hospital if it becomes necessary.  Negotiators meet again Aug. 8.

In negotiations following a two-day strike July 12 and 13, the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and representatives of the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington reached tentative agreements on issues that help govern some scheduling issues and pay rates. Both sides say the first agreements are good steps.

The two sides did not reach an agreement on pay increases for the 1,800 nurses. The union insists that higher wages are necessary to recruit and retain nurses and support staff and alleviate understaffing.  Additional bargaining sessions are planned August.

What follows is an excellent article on the Burlington strike that will shortly appear in Labor Notes by Jonah Furman, used by permission of Labor Notes.


Vermont’s Striking Nurses Want a Raise for Nonunion Workers Too

by Jonah Furman

Especially for professional workers, when your main strike issue is pay, attracting public support can be a challenge.

Savvy employers paint union members as spoiled. They like to point out that you’re already making more than many of your nonunion neighbors.

Yet when 1,800 nurses and technical staff struck for better wages July 12-13 at the state’s second-largest employer, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the people of Burlington came out in force to back them up.

“We had policemen and firefighters and UPS drivers pulling over and shaking our hands” on the picket line, said neurology nurse Maggie Belensz. “We had pizza places dropping off dozens of pizzas, giving out free ice cream.”

And when a thousand people marched from the hospital through Burlington’s downtown, “we had standing ovations from people eating their dinners,” she said. “It was a moving experience.”

One reason for such wide support: these hospital workers aren’t just demanding a raise themselves. They’re also calling for a $15 minimum wage for their nonunion co-workers, such as those who answer the phones, mop the floors, cook the food, and help patients to the bathroom.

RED FOR MED

Restructuring in 2011 created the University of Vermont Health Network, an association of six hospitals, a visiting nurse association, and various clinics spread across the state and reaching into upstate New York.

But this hospital is the crown jewel, the state’s only Level I trauma center. As a “tertiary care” facility, it gets the network’s sickest and hardest-to-treat patients.

Funneling those patients to UVM Medical Center is a good thing, says surgical and pediatric intensive-care nurse Jason Winston, who has worked there a decade. “However, because the job has changed, we need the tools to do the job,” he said. “We need more staff, and wages that allow us to recruit and retain.”

Instead, the hospital struggles with a perennial nurse shortage. Winston said UVM doesn’t even match the wages at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, 30 miles away in Plattsburgh, New York—where the cost of living is much lower. And Champlain Valley sends its highest-need patients to UVM for specialized care.

FIGHT FOR $15

A bargaining survey of nurses and technical staff revealed that wages were a major concern—but with a twist. Members didn’t just want to boost their own wages. They wanted a raise for the nonunion secretaries and support staff, too. The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals represents less than a quarter of the hospital’s workforce.

Vermont legislature passed a $15 minimum wage in May, but the governor vetoed it. Nurses knew that UVM Medical Center had the funds to raise its own minimum wage to $15—and the union had the will to fight for it.

While the union can’t officially negotiate wages for titles not covered in the contract, there is a provision that states that the hospital “shall provide sufficient ancillary staff so as to ensure that such duties do not fall to bargaining unit employees.” Chronic short-staffing should be addressed by raising wages to attract and retain support staff, says the union.

The union hosted a community rally in May focused on the low-wage licensed nursing attendants, who start at under $13 an hour. “LNAs are essential to our work,” says Belensz. “They’re taking patients’ vital signs, they’re helping to reposition patients to prevent bed sores, they help toileting patients. They’re our right-hand man.”

But, she adds, “More so than nurses even, LNAs are constantly short-staffed. Then we have nurses doing LNA duties, on top of the nursing workload.”

At the rally, 600 nurses and community allies marched through Burlington’s downtown, and then to the site of offices that are being built with UVM Medical Center as the anchor tenant. The hospital has agreed to pay annual rent that’s a million dollars higher than market rate, “for the health of downtown,” said Winston.

“Which is great, we want a healthy downtown. But if there’s money for that, and money for executive salaries, there’s money for nurses too.”

BRING A CROWD

Union members spent a year and a half building up to this two-day strike. The focus was on building as big a team as possible, not just union leaders.

In the union’s bylaws, each nursing unit at the hospital is entitled to elect at least one negotiating committee member, and large units get more than one. This produced a big bargaining team of 36 people. Even if you’re not on the bargaining team, you’re encouraged to sit in on negotiating sessions.

Whenever possible, the union brings a crowd:

  • For the initial delivery of the union’s notice of intent to bargain—often a low-key administrative matter—100 nurses came out to deliver the forms.
  • Close to 400 nurses showed up for the first bargaining session.
  • In June, 1,300 members cast ballots in a strike authorization vote; 94 percent voted to strike.
  • At the last bargaining session before the strike, hundreds of red-shirted nurses walked in, chanting “Safe staffing saves lives,” and “Hey Brumsted, what do you say? How many beds did you make today?” targeting the hospital’s CEO, who made more than $2 million dollars in 2017.

BIG PICTURE

Belensz, who has worked at the hospital for three years, was tapped to join the Member Action Team. That meant she was responsible for activating her co-workers in neurology—no easy task. Her unit hasn’t been much involved in past negotiations.

Day-to-day conditions in neurology are tolerable, and the managers are seen as fair. “There were a lot of people that were on the fence, or fully against the strike,” Belensz said. So her goal was to get them thinking about the bigger picture, especially the issue of short-staffing and overwork in other departments, like orthopedics and urology, where support staff are few and far between, and the nurse-to-patient ratio is much worse.

For her the rallies, marches, and open bargaining were crucial as “unifying events,” she said, that worked to “get people excited and show the hospital that we’re not messing around.”

The momentum grew as the strike deadline drew near. “We’ve made leaps and bounds in the last month,” Belensz said. She attributed that to the hundreds of one-on-one conversations and question-and-answer sessions the Member Action Team has held round the clock for months.

In fact, she was pleasantly surprised to see many of the former holdouts walking the picket line. One co-worker, who Belensz is sure voted no a month ago, told her, “If we need to strike again, we’re striking again!”

 

 

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Dolores: The Film

Dolores
Join Dolores Delgado Campbell, Sacramento DSA, to discuss the film Dolores.  Here’s how PBS’s Independent Lens describes it: “With intimate and unpresented access, Peter Bratt’s Dolores tells the story of Dolores Huerta. . . . Co-founder of the first farmworkers union with Cesar Chavez, she tirelessly let the fight for racial and labor justice, becoming one of the most defiant feminists of the 20th century.” Delgado Campbell is a Chicana, feminist, labor union activist of 40 years, former co-chair of DSA’s Latino Commission (1983- 2004) and professor emeritus of Women’s History and Chicano History. She worked with Huerta as organizers with the United Farm Workers of America in the 1970s. The film will be shown on PBS TV channels March 27.  Check your local station’s schedule, or watch it online here after March 27. Here’s a review. 

Dolores Huerta – A New Film

 

An exciting  new film is in the theaters giving the life and struggle of Dolores Huerta.

Although often ignored by the Anglo media and Anglo centric histories, Dolores Huerta tirelessly led the fight for racial and labor justice alongside Cesar Chavez.  From the founding along with Cesar Chavez, Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz,   and others  of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, through her current work in supporting union democracy,   civic engagement and empowerment of women and youth in disadvantaged communities, Dolores Huerta’s influence has been profound. The creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing in the Southwest and contributed significantly to the growth of Latino politics in the U.S.

Dolores, the film, serves labor history well to accurately describes the often overlooked role of Philipinos  who initiated a strike in Delano in 1965, which the nascent NFWA joined , to  create the great Grape Strike that changed labor history in the Southwest.

DSA Honorary Chairs:  Eliseo Medina, Gloria Steinem, along with activist Angela Davis provide historical records, commentary, insights, testimonies, and evaluations of Dolores’s life work.   Along with DSA Honorary Chair Dolores Huerta, the positions of Eliseo Medina and Gloria Steinem were eliminated by the decision of the DSA convention in 2017. Continue reading

Labor Veteran Dolores Huerta on What’s at Stake in the 2016 Elections

huertaAlly Boguhn, Rewire

Since the founding along with Cesar Chaves and others of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, through her current work in supporting union democracy, civic engagement and empowerment of women and youth in disadvantaged communities, Huerta’s influence has been profound. The creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing in the Southwest and contributed significantly to the growth of Latino politics in the U.S. .

Republican nominee Donald Trump launched his campaign for president in June 2015 with a speech notoriously claiming [1] Mexican immigrants to the United States “are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.”
Since then, both Trump’s campaign [2] and the Republican Party at large have continued to rely upon anti-immigrant [3] and anti-Latino rhetoric to drum up support. Take for example, this year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio—whose department came under fire [4] earlier this year for racially profiling Latinos—was invited to take the stage to push [5] Trump’s proposed 2,000-mile border wall. Arpaio told the Arizona Republic that Trump’s campaign had worked with the sheriff to finalize his speech.
This June, just a day shy of the anniversary of Trump’s entrance into the presidential race, People for the American Way and CASA in Action hosted an event highlighting what they deemed to be the presumptive Republican nominee’s “Year of Hate.”
Among the advocates speaking at the event was legendary civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside [6] César Chávez in the farm workers’ movement. Speaking by phone the next day with Rewire, Huerta—who has endorsed [7] Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—detailed the importance of Latinos getting involved in the 2016 election, and what she sees as being at stake for the community.
The Trump campaign is “promoting a culture of violence,” Huerta told Rewire, adding that it “is not just limited to the rallies,” which have sometimes ended in violent incidents [8], “but when he is attacking Mexicans, and gays, and women, and making fun of disabled people.”

Huerta didn’t just see this kind of rhetoric as harmful to Latinos. When asked about its effect on the country at large, she suggested it affected not only those who already held racist beliefs, but also people living in the communities of color those people may then target. “For those people who are already racist, it sort of reinforces their racism,” she said. “I think people have their own frustrations in their lives and they take it out on immigrants, they take it out on women. And I think that it really endangers so many people of color.” Continue reading

20 Years of Cross Border Solidarity

A History in Photographs
By David Bacon
NACLA Report on the Americas, May 2016
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2016.1170301

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1993 - Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal.  Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they're voting for the company union or their own independent union.  Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he's voting for.  Company  and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union.  The election was called off halfway through.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1993 – Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal. Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they’re voting for the company union or their own independent union. Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he’s voting for. Company and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union. The election was called off halfway through.

Unions and social movements face a basic question on both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border – can they win the battles they face today, especially political ones, without joining their efforts together? Fortunately, this is not an abstract question. Struggles have taken place in maquiladoras for two decades all along the border. Many centers and collectives of workers have come together over those years. Walkouts over unpaid wages, or indemnización, as well as terrible working conditions are still common.

What’s more, local activists still find ways to support these actions through groups like the Collective Ollin Calli in Tijuana and its network of allies across the border in Tijuana, the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Other forms of solidarity have been developed through groups the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. And long-term relations have been created between unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Authentic Labor Front, and the United Steel Workers and the Mexican Mineros. More recently, binational support networks have formed for farm workers in Baja California, and workers are actively forming new networks of resistance and solidarity in the plantons outside factories in Ciudad Juárez.

Over the years, support from many U.S. unions and churches, and from unions and labor institutions in Mexico City, has often been critical in helping these collectives survive, especially during the pitched battles to win legal status for independent unions. At other moments, however, the worker groups in the maquiladoras and the cities of the border have had to survive on their own, or with extremely limited resources.

These photographs show both the conditions people on the border are trying to change, and some of the efforts they’ve made to change them, in cooperation with groups in the U.S. There have been many such efforts – this is just a look at some.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1995 - Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women's rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana.  Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women were laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer. The plant manager had organized a “beauty contest” at a company picnic, and ordered women workers to parade in bikinis. Supported by the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, women filed suit in a U.S. Federal court, which surprisingly accepted jurisdiction. The company then gave women severance pay for the loss of their jobs.
See the entire essay and the impressive photos. http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2016/05/twenty-years-of-cross-border-solidarity.html

The Maquiladora Workers of Juarez Create Independent Unions

THE MAQUILADORA WORKERS OF JUAREZ FIND THEIR VOICE
By David Bacon              The Nation, web edition, 11/20/15
http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-maquiladora-workers-of-juarez-find.html

Rosario Acosta and other mothers march behind the banner of the group they organized:  “Nuestras Hija de Regreso a Casa” – “May Our Daughters Come Home”

Torreon, Coahuila  11/15/02 Rosario Acosta (l) and other mothers of women murdered and disappeared in Juarez, march in Torreon to call on Mexican authorities to investigate the cases.

Torreon, Coahuila 11/15/02
Rosario Acosta (l) and other mothers of women murdered and disappeared in Juarez, march in Torreon to call on Mexican authorities to investigate the cases.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, CHIHUAHUA — After more than a decade of silence, maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juarez have found their voice.  The city, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, is now the center of a growing rebellion of laborers in the border factories.  At the gates to four plants, including a huge 5000-worker Foxconn complex, they have set up encampments, or “plantons,” demanding recognition of independent unions, and protesting firings and reprisals.

“We just got so tired of the insults, the bad treatment and low wages, that we woke up,” explains Carlos Serrano, a leader of the revolt at Foxconn’s Scientific Atlanta facility.  “We don’t really know what’s going to happen now, and we’re facing companies that are very powerful and have a lot of money.  But what’s clear is that we are going to continue.  We’re not going to stop.”

The Juarez protests come just as Congress gets ready to debate a new trade treaty, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which opponents charge will reproduce the same devastation Mexican workers experienced as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Critics charge NAFTA cemented into place a regime of low wages, labor violations and violence on the border after it took effect in 1994.  Today, economic pressure has become so extreme that Juarez’ workers feel they have no choice but to risk their jobs in hope of change.

Ali Lopez, a single mother at the planton outside the ADC CommScope factory, describes grinding poverty. “The only way a single mother can survive here is with help from family or friends,” she says.  Lopez has two daughters, one 13 and one 6 years old.  “I can’t spend any time with them because I’m always working.  When I leave in the morning, I leave food for the older one to warm up for lunch.  Childcare would cost 200 pesos a week or more, so I can’t afford it.” Continue reading

Time to Break the Class Ceiling – Elect Bernie Sanders

byRoseAnn DeMoro

nurses_bernie

Noting his issues “align with nurses from top to bottom,” National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of nurses, endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for President in August, 2015. (Photo: NNU/flickr/cc)

 
Let’s make history. The 2016 election offers a rare moment to crack a barrier that can truly transform our nation – the opportunity to shatter the Class Ceiling.

As an organization of nurses, 90 percent of them women, we’d love to break the glass ceiling as well. But with declining social mobility, our children for the first time in history facing less opportunity and a lower standard of living than their parents, and a rapidly shrinking promise of the American dream, smashing the Class Ceiling is our most pressing priority.

Sen. Bernie Sanders presents our best opportunity to bust through that bar. He offers the most comprehensive solutions – and understands it will take all of us, a “political revolution,” to stand up to the power of Wall Street, big corporations and the billionaires who have corrupted our political and economic system.

Here’s a few reasons why lifting the Class Ceiling must be our first target.

The wealth and income gap. As Sen. Sanders notes, since 1985, the share of wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent in the U.S. has plummeted from 36 percent to 23 percent, a loss that equates to over $10 trillion, nearly all of it going to a tiny sliver of the wealthiest. Over the last 30 years, the top one-tenth of one percent have seen its share of our nation’s wealth more than double from 10 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile real median family income is almost $5,000 less than in 1999. Wages have flat lined for many workers; since 1973, worker productivity has climbed 72 percent but hourly compensation increased just 9 percent.

Poverty. Today, 46.7 million Americans live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. The U.S. has far greater childhood poverty than any major industrialized country. Nearly 50 million Americans live in food insecurity households. Some 11 million tenants spend half their income on rent and as many as 39 percent of households have housing insecurity.

Health care. Even with gains made under the Affordable Care Act, 33 million Americans remain without health coverage. Last year, 35 million Americans could not get their prescriptions filled because they could not afford it. A Commonwealth Fund study documented that the U.S. ranks last among 11 developed countries on the quality of our health system, including shorter life spans than comparable countries.

Education. Students who live in wealthier communities had lower-student teacher ratios, more up to date computer and science equipment, better libraries, more current textbooks, and more guidance counselors. A result, affluent students have higher high school graduation rates, higher test scores, and more job opportunities when out of school. College student debt totals more than $1.2 trillion leaving many in debt for much of their life.

Racial disparities. African-Americans and Latinos have higher rates of unemployment, infant mortality, chronic illnesses, shorter lifespans, and are far more likely to be turned down for home loans than whites. African-Americans and Latinos, one-fourth of the population, comprise 58 percent of those incarcerated, and the loss of life of unarmed African-Americans in police shootings and while in custody has become a national scandal.

Women’s equality. The gender gap bridges the economic and social landscape. Women earn less than men, and female-headed households experience a poverty rate 6.9 percentage points higher than men. The U.S. is among the very few industrialized countries that fails to offer paid maternity leave, spends far less on child care, and provides less sick time or flexible work schedules which affect women in greater numbers.

Pollution and climate change. Due in part to where power plants and refineries are placed, environmental pollution has more exposure in low-income communities and among people of color. One study found people of color breathe air with 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide, one reason for a growing asthma epidemic. The climate crisis in the form of droughts, which cut crop yields and add to hunger, and extreme weather events also have a more deadly impact on low income communities in the U.S. and globally.

Reversing these disastrous trends is a tall order, but Sen. Sanders’ program is a good place to start.

His agenda includes boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour, pay equity for women, a $1 trillion jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure that would create millions of jobs, sweeping criminal justice reform, expanding Medicare to cover everyone, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and robust action on climate change. Needed revenue would come by putting people to work, improving health outcomes, making the wealthy pay their fair share, and taxing Wall Street speculation.

For our children and our future, there’s no time to waste.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

RoseAnn DeMoro is executive director of the 185,000-member National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association of nurses, and a national vice president of the AFL-CIO. Follow Rose Ann DeMoro on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/NationalNurses