Thousands of nurses in hospitals across the U.S., represented by National Nurses United, participated in the union’s National Day of Action on June 13 to address staffing concerns. Militant actions included press conferences, marches on hospital management and petitioning.
NNU is the largest and fastest-growing union of registered nurses in the U.S., with nearly 225,000 members nationwide. The California Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee are among the affiliates of NNU, which belongs to the AFL-CIO.
NNU is a militant, left-wing union that combines class-struggle unionism with social-justice unionism and provides a political orientation to its members that many U.S. unions do not. NNU openly supports Black Lives Matter; it addresses issues such as climate change, and it is critical of capitalism. As a union of nurses, most of its members are women and people of color, and its elected leadership reflects that.
Many of the recent strikes across the country have been by NNU. The New York State Nurses Association held a three-day strike in New York City in January. NYSNA members overwhelmingly voted to join NNU in November 2022, which brought in their 42,000 members.
“Chronic, intentional short staffing was the key issue over which we New York City nurses decided to go out on strike,” said Nancy Hagans, registered nurse, NYSNA President and a president of NNU. “It is unacceptable, and we were united in showing management we will not tolerate these practices that put our patients and ourselves at risk.” (nationalnursesunited.org)
A study by nursing scholars and researchers including Linda Aiken, Ph.D., RN, from University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (ranked number one in the U.S.) was published in 2021 and examined how patient-to-nurse staffing ratios in New York hospitals influenced patient mortality. The study authors concluded: “Our findings demonstrate considerable variation in the patient-to-nurse staffing ratios on adult medical and surgical units in a large, representative sample of NY hospitals.
“The majority of hospitals do not meet the minimum nurse staffing required by legislation currently under consideration in New York. We find associations between worse nurse staffing and poorer outcomes for NY patients, consistent with a large body of research which shows the clinical benefit to patients of being cared for by a nurse with fewer assigned patients. . . . If NY state enacted the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, our evidence projects many lives would be saved, and shorter hospital stays would translate into cost savings for hospitals.” (tinyurl.com/y5hn7dnr)
The nursing shortage myth
Hospital C-suite executives promote the falsehood that there is a nursing shortage. Instead of funding adequate nurse staffing, they throw money away on lobbyists, who misrepresent the causes of the sad state of health care to out-of-touch elitist legislators, who receive free quality care but deny it to the rest of us.
NNU, on behalf of the nurses they represent and the patients in their care, is determined to expose the real story behind the lack of adequate nurse staffing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that more than a million registered nurses with active licenses were not employed as RNs.
The number of candidates who passed the NCLEX-RN, the nursing licensure exam, is growing, not declining, with 192,007 newly licensed RNs in 2021 compared to 166,247 in 2017. NNU points to these facts as proof that the nursing education-and-licensing pipeline is strong.
The truth is that more nurses are refusing to work in environments that put their licenses on the line and their patients’ lives at risk. While the hospital bosses and their allies in the corporate media blame nurses for the “staffing crisis,” NNU blames the profit-driven hospital industry itself for the crisis. \
Hospital industry to blame
In a May 15 press release, NNU highlights that “the hospital industry created the current staffing crisis through its own bad practices of routinely short-staffing units and driving away nurses who refuse to tolerate the moral distress and moral injury suffered from working in untenable, unconscionable and unsafe work environments.” (nationalnursesunited.org)
NNU clearly and factually explains what is driving the exodus of nurses: “Although the rampant mistreatment of nurses and health care professionals was on full display during the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have long experienced dangerous working conditions, fueled by a chronic lack of employer support for their labor and their well-being.
“Polling after polling of nurses show that workplace conditions are driving them away from the profession: intentional low RN staffing levels imposed by hospital managers, inadequate occupational health and safety protections, insufficient stock of critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) (and) increasing levels of violence in the workplace.”
The facts presented by NNU dispel the nursing shortage myth and clearly lay the blame for inadequate nurse staffing at the feet of hospital capitalists, who will do anything to maximize profits — even if it means putting patients’ lives at risk. The June 13 actions represent militant resistance to the rotten system of health care for profit.
Marie Kelly has been a registered nurse for over 40 years in Philadelphia, and is an at-large member of National Nurses United.