On the picket line

Nurses organize

National Nurses United reported the nurses at Maine Medical Center successfully voted to unionize. The 2,000 nurses will be represented by Maine State Nurses Association (MSNU) and NNU. Maine Medical Center is the largest health care facility in the state.

Meanwhile, St. Vincent nurses in Worcester, Mass., are still on the picket line. The nurses’ strike began March 8 and is presently the longest strike in the country. The top demand of the nurses is safer staffing. 

The current staffing ratio at St. Vincent is often 1 nurse to 5 patients or (1-5). The patient load is above the NNU recommended staffing ratio and would be deemed unsafe by current best practice standards. For example, a nurse should only be caring for one critical care patient (1-1), while a nurse can be assigned multiple patients who are less acutely ill. 

Representatives from both sides were at the bargaining table on March 5, and the union reports they are examining a proposal from hospital administration that includes a concession on staffing ratios. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) states: “Inadequate nurse staffing levels by experienced RNs are linked to higher rates of patient falls, infections, medication errors and even death.” (nurse.org, Nov. 1, 2017) It also causes an ethical dilemma and moral distress on the part of the nurse. Nursing shortages result as RNs opt out of direct patient care jobs rather than risk harming a patient.

The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act would mandate safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, but so far only California has passed legislation. The bill was introduced in the New York State legislature and is moving through various committees before it can be brought to the full body for a vote.

Students strike

New York University graduate students are on strike. United Automobile Workers Local 2110 represents more than 1,000 grad student workers at NYU. Their main demand is a wage increase but, in response to police violence against Black and Brown people, the students are calling on the university to limit police presence on campus. (tinyurl.com/yh6oml7b) Graduate students won their first higher education union contract in 1970 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) continues their battle with Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, to allow undergraduate student workers to vote for a union. Two months ago, the K-SWOC staged the first undergraduate student-worker strike in the country. The student group called another strike in late April, when the college refused to recognize the student-workers’ union. (tinyurl.com/yzm94x2l)

So far 165 student-workers have signed a commitment to the current strike. The group rallied on campus in early May to gain more college community support. At one point, the group occupied the college president’s office but left of their own accord after about one hour. College administration called campus security, who proceeded to harass and threaten the students as they marched through campus. 

In response to the harassment, K-SWOC has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge (ULP) with the NLRB, accusing the college of violating the National Labor Relations Act provision that guarantees workers the right to self-organization and to form, join or assist labor organizations. K-SWOC also filed an unpaid wages complaint with the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Wage and Hour Administration because the college is withholding overtime pay.

Coal miners rally

The United Mine Workers (UMWA) hosted a Unity Rally for the 1,100 coal miners striking at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama. The strike began on April 1 after the workers’ contracts expired, and negotiations for a new contract failed. UMWA President Cecil Roberts urged striking workers to stand firm and pledged over $1 million from union funds to support them. (tinyurl.com/yz6r5g6u)

Roberts reflected on the April 28 Workers Memorial Day: “Today, before you get home tonight and put your head on your pillow, another worker somewhere in this country will be killed on the job. Fourteen workers every single day in the United States, but that’s not all. I want you to listen to this number every year; somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 workers die from occupational illnesses like black lung, brown lung, white lung, cancer. They’re dying because they went to work . . . (Warrior Met Coal) is a dangerous company to work for.” 

The Brookwood, Ala., mine was the site of the 2001 tragedy when methane explosions killed 13 miners. Survivors of the explosions blamed dangerous conditions that the mine owner and the Mine Safety and Health Administration covered up. (tinyurl.com/yhomjr5q)

At the rally, Alabama AFL-CIO President Bren Riley chastised Warrior Met Coal for recently paying out bonuses to the bosses, while miners accepted pay cuts in 2016 to keep the company afloat. He also denounced the company for bringing in strikebreakers during the strike. 

The strikebreakers appear to be responsible for recent complaints filed with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Two Tuscaloosa streams have been contaminated with thick wastewater runoff, since the strike began. (tinyurl.com/yffjog2h)

Nelson Brooke works for the Waterkeeper Alliance. He is the riverkeeper for the Black Warrior River, which both creeks flow into. After investigating, he is sure he knows where the pollution is coming from: “It’s 100% coming from Warrior Met Coal’s number seven underground mine,” where the mining waste slurry is pumped to the surface, contaminating the waterways. 

UMWA Communications Director, Phil Smith has commented that such environmental catastrophes caused by poor work practices “don’t happen so much when the UMWA workforce is in these mines.”

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