Categories: Workers unite!

On the picket line

Health care workers

COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, and health care workers have not forgotten how hospital bosses failed them during the height of the pandemic. Multiple strikes and labor actions are still happening across the U.S. 

Respiratory therapists at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have joined the Ohio Nurses Association, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. The vote in early August was 101 to 19, showing the overwhelming support of respiratory therapists for their right to collective bargaining. They join over 190,000 nurses across Ohio who belong to the ONA. 

“This is a big step forward in building solidarity in the healthcare workforce to improve working conditions and quality care for our patients,” said Ohio State University Nurses Organization President Rick Lucas, RN. OSUNO is the Ohio State University local of the ONA. (Ohio Nurses Association, Aug. 9)

In New Jersey, nurses at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital began a strike on Aug. 4. The 1,700 RWJ nurses are members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4-200. They voted down a hospital contract proposal and issued a 10-day strike notice. Adequate staffing is at the top of the nurses’ list of demands. 

Kelsey Khan is one of the striking nurses. She describes an average day in the life of a staff nurse at RWJ, where she was assigned six patients, including an elderly confused person at risk of falling; a patient receiving a blood transfusion which requires careful monitoring; a COVID-19 patient whose oxygen levels were dropping; a patient who needed blood drawn immediately; and a patient who was frustrated because they hadn’t been cleared to go home. 

According to Khan: “The first contract proposal was voted down by a staggering 96 % of members. This is because the proposal had no action plan to safely staff units based on acuity (how sick patients are). In fact, the proposal omitted a staffing ratio altogether. Nurses refused to accept an offer that prioritized profits over our patients.” (labornotes.org, Aug. 23)

Kaiser Permanente workers held a series of pickets last month during contract negotiations to draw attention to the dismal state of profit-driven health care. Picket lines were up in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state. 

Graduate students

After nine months of negotiating and a five-month strike, University of Michigan graduate students have proven that solidarity and withholding labor are effective in defeating the capitalists in the university administration. In April, a judge rejected the university’s attempt to force the 2,000 members of Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) to end their strike. The strike continued through the summer until the university capitulated, and the union won a contract that the union leadership is calling historic. 

The new agreement includes a 20% raise over three years for graduate student instructors on the Ann Arbor campus, while those on UM’s Dearborn campus get a 10.5% increase. GEO did not achieve its goal of parity between the Ann Arbor main campus and the Dearborn satellite campus. Doctoral students will receive a stipend over 12 months, a change from the current plan that only covers them when classes are in session. This amounts to a 50% increase. 

Birthing parents will get 12 weeks of paid leave. Copays for physical therapy and mental health services were reduced and gender-affirming procedures will be covered under the graduate student health plan. Amir Fleischmann, a GEO spokesperson, said the contract shows the “power of a long-haul strike and worker-led campaign … This has been over two years in the making. We’ve had literally thousands of workers participating in this campaign at every step of the way, from formulating our platform to coming and watching and participating in bargaining sessions to going on strike.” (tinyurl.com/yc2jcmnb)  

In Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania residence advisers are following the example of other student workers and attempting to unionize. The UPenn RAs won a victory this August when the National Labor Relations Board denied the university’s claim that the residence advisers are not workers and thus are not entitled to join a union. 

The 220 student workers at Penn will vote to join Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153. Scott Williams, an organizer with that local, who has helped unionization efforts in half a dozen universities, said, “This is the first university [UPenn] that has contested the obvious reality that these workers are, in fact, workers.” (tinyurl.com/bp4sjz47)

Marie Kelly

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Marie Kelly

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