On the picketline

Nurses are once again on the front line of the pandemic, due to the upsurge caused by COVID-19 Delta variant. Simultaneously, all across the U.S. nurses are organizing to fight for patient and staff safety — as hospital corporations rake in profits, and their executives command million-dollar salaries.

In Massachusetts, the 800 nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., continue their strike, now in its fifth month. The nurses are demanding safer patient-to-nurse staffing ratios that improve recovery time from illness, prevent serious injuries during hospitalization and reduce hospital-acquired infection rates. 

In a show of solidarity, the striking nurses joined the picket line of health care workers at the Massachusetts Visiting Nurse Association in Dorchester, Mass. These workers are holding a one-week strike to protest increased patient caseloads, which hinder proper delivery of care.

In Illinois, the 200 nurses at Chicago’s Community First Medical Center are on strike after 14 months of negotiation. They are still without a first contract, after voting to join National Nurses United in 2019. Staffing issues are at the core of the dispute, while hospital administration continues to spend money on public relations campaigns that tout nurses as heroes. “More like suckers” is one Community First nurse’s interpretation of this failure to treat nurses with the respect they deserve. (The Guardian, July 30)

The 1,400 nurses at University of Southern’s California Keck Hospital and Norris Cancer Hospital held a strike July 14-15 to protest long shifts and understaffing and to demand hospital administrators stop hiring outside agency contract nurses, who lack the skills needed to care for special types of patients. (LA Times, July 14) For example, nurses must have additional training to administer chemotherapy drugs to cancer patients.

In Michigan, the threat of a strike by 500 nurses at McLaren Macomb Hospital outside Detroit forced concessions at the bargaining table. (Detroit Free Press, July 24) The nurses, members of Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 40, will vote soon on the tentative three-year contract. OPEIU and the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) are part of a 10-union coalition accusing McLaren Health Care Corporation, which owns 14 hospitals, of unfair labor practices. 

The hospital corporation refuses to disclose the amount of pandemic federal relief funds it received. The unions called on the corporation to cap executives’ salaries at $1 million and put relief funds into hazard pay and PPE. MNA is also pushing Michigan lawmakers to pass the Safe Patient Care Act to legislate safe patient-nurse staffing ratios and to protect whistleblowers from retaliation when they speak out about unsafe hospital conditions. 

In Pennsylvania, the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, representing thousands of nurses across the state, are pressuring state legislators to pass safe patient-nurse staffing through the Patient Safety Act. Pennsylvania nurses’ unions have launched the Enough is Enough campaign to force the state Department of Health to increase the minimum hours of care necessary to adequately care for nursing home residents. 

Pennsylvania’s nursing home residents account for over 13,000 deaths from COVID-19, out of a total of nearly 28,000 statewide. The nurses want the minimum hours of care increased from the current 2.7 hours to the industry standard of 4.1 hours.

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