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!”

 

 

Healthcare Costs Go Viral: Emergency Declared by San Francisco Labor

by Carl Finamore

finamore_healthemerIt’s a national epidemic finally getting some long overdue attention. To put rising costs in perspective, a dozen oranges today would cost $134 if adjusted at the same rate of price inflation that we’ve seen in healthcare since 1945.

And, it’s only getting worse. California health insurance premiums soared 185% since 2002. But we’ve heard these complaints before, it’s not new.

What is new is that the largest unions in San Francisco are doing something to reign in price gouging by insurers like California-based Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest HMO with 9.1 million subscribers.

For UNITE-HERE Local 2, one of the city’s largest unions representing 13,000 employees of restaurants and hotels in and around San Francisco, it has become a necessity. Continue reading

The 4 (or 5) Worst Market Failures in Human History

by Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

I’m a capitalist for one reason: to raise living standards in my community. A familiar mantra of capitalism guides me: Markets are powerful and efficient.

I’m also a realist, so I temper that mantra: Markets are powerful and efficient. And markets fail.

Market failure is an established, well-understood field of study in mainstream economics. Generations of economists accept the basics of market failure.

However, American economists turn their heads away at the mention of it, because it sounds like heresy.

Consider the four biggest market failures in human history:

  • Climate change: $40 trillion, so far
  • Health care in America: trillions per year, ongoing
  • The housing-financial asset bubble: at least $8 trillion
  • Free trade: $8 trillion, so far Continue reading

How Low Can Part-Timers’ Hours Go?

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Say you’re an employer with an employee who works 30 hours a week. If you have 50 employees or more come next year, you’ll be required either to provide her with health-care coverage, which the Affordable Care Act will by then mandate for all employees who work at least 30 hours a week, or you’ll have to pay a $2,000 penalty for failing to cover her.

Or, you could just cut her weekly hours to 29. That way, you won’t have to pay a dime, in either insurance costs or penalties.

This thought, not surprisingly, has crossed the minds of quite a number of employers. Right now, the average number of hours an employee in a retail establishment works each week is 31.4. And a whole lot of Americans work in retail—just slightly over 15 million, according to the latest employment report, out Friday, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Not all of them work hours that hover just over 30, of course, but the UC Berkeley Labor Center has calculated that 10.6 percent of workers in retail establishments that employ 100 or more individuals put in between 30 and 36 hours each week. As retail establishments that employ between 50 and 100 workers may well employ a higher percentage of part-timers than their larger counterparts, that figure of 10.6 percent is likely to rise when those additional employees are factored in.

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Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest by Workplace Injuries, Illnesses

by Mike Hall

Low-Wage-Workers-Hit-Hardest-by-Workplace-Injuries-Illnesses_blogpostimageIt’s a double whammy for low-wage workers when they get hurt or fall ill on the job.

First, they lose pay because the vast majority (more than 80%) of low-wage workers do not have any paid sick leave to take time off to recover. Second, not only does the pay check shrink, but because of inadequate workers’ compensation laws, they must shoulder a bigger portion of their health care costs with those smaller paychecks. That means workers and their communities must bear a larger share of the $39 billion (in 2010) that workplace injuries and illnesses cost the nation.

A new policy brief, “Mom’s Off Work ’Cause She Got Hurt: The Economic Impact of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce,” examines the growing problem.

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Reflections on Labor’s Civil War in California

paul-garver-edited

by Paul Garver

Carl Finamore’s report on SEIU’s trial for civil damages against leaders of the NUHW provides a valuable guide to the current situation.  I will add a few reflections based upon reading Cal Winslow’s just published Labor’s Civil War in California: The NUHW Healthcare Workers’ Rebellion, and upon attending the Left Forum debate: “How Should Friends of Labor on the Left Respond to Conflicts Within and Between Unions?”

Cal Winslow’s book is both a partisan pamphlet on behalf of the NUHW, as well as a compact and useful narrative of the background and development of SEIU’s civil war in California.  I liked Cal’s analysis of the two warring “souls” within SEIU. His treatment of the SEIU/Unite Here conflict is more sketchy, and a few minor errors reflect its being rushed into print (on p. 37 he writes that Unite Here is still SEIU’s partner in Change to Win, whereas Unite Here rejoined the AFL-CIO in September 2009).  The book is well worth reading and is modestly priced at $12 (available from PM Press, Oakland, CA, www.pmpress.org).

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Democrats Forgot the Working Class in Massachusetts!

by Jeff Crosby
Jeff Crosby is President of CWA-IUE Local 201 in Lynn, Massachusetts.  He is also President of the (Boston) North Shore Labor Council.  This article appeared first in the AFL-CIO Now blog, and is printed here by permission of the author.
 
 
Hey, Democrats, Remember Us?

“Jeff, you guys at the Union Hall aren’t listening to us! You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. We’re fighting the benefits tax, and now you’re telling us to vote for someone who will tax our benefits! The guys here are voting for Scotty Brown.”

That was just one of the calls and e-mails that I received during the week before the Senate vote in Massachusetts. An AFSCME delegate to our labor council calculated the impact of the Obama tax on union plans and e-mailed us all to “Vote Brown!”

For a year and a half, we campaigned against the tax on our health care benefits. We trudged through neighboring New Hampshire with fliers explaining that Sen. John McCain wanted to fund health care expansion by a benefits tax.

Conservative members of my local Executive Board were adamant in saying the outcome of our health care campaign would be a tax on working people to extend coverage to poor people. Recognizing a classic Republican “wedge issue,” we argued that those without insurance include our own children. We could win a plan to tax the wealthiest and cut into the blood money of the health care profiteers.

Ultimately, we were wrong.
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Join with the labor movement in the fight for a better health care bill.

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National Call-in Day
Wednesday Jan 13, 2010

DSA is joining with the AFL-CIO on Wednesday January 13th to call members of the House of Representatives to urge them to stand up for provisions in the House health care bill that are superior to the deeply flawed Senate Bill. We also urge members to call the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the same message.

The message of this call-in day is that we must have a health care bill that:

  • Does not tax health care benefits.
  • Requires employers to pay their fair share.
  • Controls health care costs—and the best way to do that is by creating a public health care insurance plan option.

To participate in the call-in day simply call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for you representative. The Capitol switchboard can also connect you to Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi. You can also visit the AFL-CIO mobilization center before the 13th and pledge to make the call on Wednesday. They will send you an email reminder with a toll-free number.

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Trumka: Senate Health Care Bill Must Change

Cropped photo of Richard Trumka, Secretary-Tre...

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The health care bill being considered by the U.S. Senate is inadequate and too tilted toward the insurance industry, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said today.

In recent days, as the Senate has debated health care reform, small numbers of senators have held health care hostage by threatening to block a vote. The new proposal by the Senate puts the interests of insurance companies—and senators who would rather look out for the insurance companies—ahead of real reform.

Trumka said the top priority now is to fight over the rest of the legislative process to fix the bill and make sure we can pass real health care reform: Continue reading

Temple community supports nurses union

by Marie Ernaux

On the evening of December 1, members of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) and union officials gathered together students, Temple staff and community members to educate the Temple community on the day-to-day realities of healthcare providers at Temple Hospital. President of AFSCME Local 1723 and Temple University Staff Paul Dannenfelser began the discussion by sharing that this was another chapter in the story of Temple University’s approach to Labor on campus. He shared that his union went through a similar two-year fight for a contract in which Temple University was “not only anti-union but anti-worker.” He expressed earnestly the energy of the room, saying, “The nurses’ fight is our fight, the student fight is our fight. We are all in this together.”

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