US nurses strike over pay and condition

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There was a huge turnout of union Registered Nurses on strike at University of Chicago Medical Centre

ABOUT 6,500 registered nurses staged a one-day strike in Tenet Health hospitals in Florida, California, and Arizona last Friday, demanding better working conditions and higher wages.

And another more than 2,200 nurses went on strike at University of Chicago Medical Centre last Friday, after contract talks with the hospital broke down.

The 6,500 National Nurses United members walked out at 12 Tenet facilities after working toward a first contract.

Members also handed out leaflets in Texas, where contracts at two Tenet hospitals in El Paso expire later this year.

About 30 nurses picketed outside Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, Florida, during intermittent rain Friday morning, waving red flags such as signs ‘Happy RNs = Healthy Patients’.

Yajaira Roman, a union leader and neurological intensive care nurse at Palmetto, said the Tenet nurses want higher wage rises than the $12 a week they are being offered, and a much higher nurse-patient ratio.

At the moment the union says Tenet assigns eight patients per nurse in Palmetto’s surgical unit, double the level the union says that research recommends.

Gillian Edwards-Brown, a critical care nurse, said the current patient-to-nurse ratio makes it hard to establish relationships with people in their care.

‘What I enjoy is seeing people coming in (a bad) state and getting them well, but the last couple years have been difficult,’ said Edwards-Brown, a nurse for 19 years.

Tenet, which has 65 hospitals and 115,000 employees nationwide, issued a statement claiming it has negotiated in ‘good faith’ and it is disappointed the union chose to strike.

‘While we respect the nurses’ right to strike, patients and their loved ones can be assured that our patients will continue to be cared for by qualified replacement registered nurses and other caregivers,’ the Dallas-based company’s statement said.

According to the US Labour Department, almost three million registered nurses are employed nationally, with an average annual salary of $75,510.

Florida’s average RN salary is $66,210, Arizona’s is $77,000 and California’s is $106,950.

Meanwhile, the over 2,200 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Centre who also walked off the job on Friday morning, after contract talks with the hospital broke down amid a dispute over staffing levels and pay rises, said they’re being forced to work long hours and cannot provide the proper care their patients need.

Hundreds of nurses – many in their uniforms, others in red T-shirts – began picketing outside the hospital at 7am as their one-day strike began.

The striking nurses said they’re sending a message about patient safety.

‘We did not walk out ON our patients. We walked out for safe staffing, which is FOR our patients,’ nurse Johnny Webb said.

‘Nurses are not just striking just to be striking. It is not something that anyone wants to do,’ registered nurse Denise Summers said.

Summers has worked as a nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Centre for almost 10 years. She said change is drastically needed.

‘Nurses are not able to take lunch. Many times we’re not able to take breaks. We’re penalised if we take sick time. And you get burned out,’ she said.

One of the sticking points in contract negotiations has been staffing. National Nurses United said the nurses have filed more than 1,700 complaints detailing staffing problems since January 2017.

The nurses said state law requires a one-to-four nurse to patient ratio, but they often have a one-to-six ratio in the emergency room.

‘We also have nurses that are taking care of sicker patients, so they have one to four when maybe they should be one to three,’ Summers said.

The union also has said because the hospital is often short on nurses, they are often asked to work in departments where they have little to no experience.

With support from business groups, Wisconsin and Michigan – both states with strong union histories – adopted ‘right to work’ laws this decade that prevent private-sector companies and unions from negotiating contracts that require employees to pay union dues or fees.

Twenty-seven states, including Texas, Florida, and Arizona, have such laws.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last year that government workers nationwide can’t be forced to contribute to the unions that represent them in collective bargaining.

But such setbacks have only spurred more union activism.

Almost 50,000 General Motors workers went on strike last week at 50 factories and warehouses as the UAW demands higher wages.

It was the first US auto industry work stoppage in a decade.

In health care, nearly 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers plan a one-week strike next month to protest at low wages and poor labour practices at the hospital chain – organisers say it might be the biggest US walkout since 185,000 Teamsters struck United Parcel Service in 1997.

Teachers have also walked out in several states over the last few years demanding higher salaries and more money for schools, including in Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

And in the media, unions have recently organised at several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, and at websites such as BuzzFeed, Slate, HuffPost, and Fusion.

Mary Anne Trasciatti, chair of Hofstra University’s labour studies programme, believes unions are about to experience a growth period because of their improving public support, particularly among younger workers.

She said people realise the manufacturing jobs of the 1950s and 1960s paid well and had good benefits because they were unionised, not because they were more profitable to their employers than current jobs.

  • In the midst of heated contract negotiations with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is getting a boost from a major supporter.

Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont came to Chicago last Tuesday, to join a 7.00pm labour rally at CTU headquarters on the Near West Side.

Members of several other unions also attended, including support staff at Chicago Public Schools who are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 73.

The more than 7,000 special education classroom assistants, bus aides, security guards and custodians with SEIU Local 73 have already authorised a potential mid-October strike.

Striking General Motors workers with the United Automobile Workers union were also among those joining the group.

‘Senator Sanders has been a stalwart supporter of union workers and their right to strike when necessary for dignity and decent wages and working conditions. He has also championed quality health care for all, a key issue in bargaining for both the CTU and SEIU Local 73,’ the CTU said in a statement.

Sanders last week posted a message of support on Twitter for the city’s teachers, saying: ‘I stand with the educators and support staff of CTU and (SEIU Local 73) in their fight for the schools Chicago’s students deserve.

‘It’s unconscionable for wealthy corporations to receive massive tax breaks while children go without school nurses and librarians.’

CTU members are taking a strike authorisation vote from Tuesday to Thursday. If it passes with at least 75% of the votes, the earliest a walkout could happen is October 7th.

The city has offered both the CTU and SEIU a pay and benefits package that includes 16% rises over five years, and Lightfoot said last Friday that she would be willing to sit at the CTU bargaining table herself to hammer out a deal.

But union leaders have said the contract is about more than just money, as the two sides remain in negotiations over teacher preparation time, class size and staffing shortages.