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Tue Dec 1, 2020, 01:19 PM Dec 2020

Healthcare Workers Are Organizing Like Their Lives Depend On It

(In These Times) Reg­is­tered nurse San­dra Old field died of Covid-19 in May. Since March, she and fel­low nurs­es had been sound­ing the pan­dem­ic alarm about dan­ger­ous con­di­tions at the Kaiser Per­ma­nente Fres­no Med­ical Cen­ter, the Cal­i­for­nia hos­pi­tal where she worked for near­ly 20 years.

After Cal­i­for­nia declared a Covid-19 state of emer­gency on March 4, Old­field didn’t feel safe work­ing in just the sur­gi­cal mask issued to her by the hos­pi­tal. She joined co-work­ers who com­plained to man­age­ment, demand­ing access to N95 respirators.

That same month, one of Oldfield’s patients, ini­tial­ly admit­ted with gas­troin­testi­nal symp­toms, became acute­ly ill with a res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion and test­ed pos­i­tive for Covid-19. Old­field went home to iso­late March 26. With­in two months, Old­field, 53, was dead.


While tra­di­tion­al union­iza­tion has slowed in 2020, includ­ing in the health­care sec­tor, there are indi­ca­tors of grow­ing inter­est in orga­niz­ing with­in hos­pi­tals, nurs­ing homes and oth­er front­line health­care facil­i­ties. Thou­sands of work­ers have gone on strike. And while it’s dif­fi­cult to esti­mate how many work­ers have tak­en part in small­er on-the-job protests and pick­ets, health­care work­ers are fil­ing more NLRB com­plaints alleg­ing retal­i­a­tion for work­place orga­niz­ing than in pre­vi­ous years.Meanwhile, sev­er­al health­care unions report they are mak­ing inroads with non-union work­ers. They espe­cial­ly see poten­tial to improve the ratio of patients to staff, which has steadi­ly dete­ri­o­rat­ed in the con­text of con­sol­i­dat­ed cor­po­rate health­care systems.“Our phones are ring­ing in a way they haven’t in the past,” says Matthew Yarnell, pres­i­dent of SEIU Health­care Penn­syl­va­nia, which rep­re­sents health­care work­ers at three new facil­i­ties fol­low­ing suc­cess­ful union dri­ves dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. Vir­tu­al­ly every facil­i­ty shares the same core issues, Yarnell says: ​“chron­ic short staffing, low wages, not being pre­pared for a high­ly con­ta­gious air­borne pan­dem­ic virus.” The trag­ic sit­u­a­tion has become a cru­cible for ​“enhanced work­place action and organizing.” ............(more)


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