Oakland, Cal.–On Oct. 12-14, nurses at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital staged a three-day strike over the proposed takebacks in their healthcare benefits. Practically all the nurses (95%) walked out. Here is what some said:
Martha: I’ve worked at Children’s Hospital, Oakland, for 24 years and we always had a choice of two plans, Kaiser HMO or Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) that allows us to bring our families, especially our children, to this hospital to be treated. Currently neither has a monthly cost to it. We proposed accepting a one-year wage freeze, which would save the hospital millions, if we could maintain our healthcare benefits. So far they haven’t responded.
ALWAYS A STRUGGLE FOR IMPROVEMENTS
Many employers are attempting to take advantage of the economic crisis and push reductions in wages and benefits for their employees. The only appropriate thing is to fight back, as the workers at Castlewood are doing, as well as the hotel workers in San Francisco right now. We have not been in any negotiations over the last 28 years when Children’s hasn’t cried poverty, when we haven’t had to struggle for improvements in patient care and in our contract standards.
The solution for us here is the union movement. The California Nurses Association (CNA) managed to raise the standard for patient care, which is our number one issue. Workers should control the work. That’s what unions are about. Working together collectively we can make a difference.
Young male nurse: I am a new nurse. I’ve had the benefit of all the progress nurses made. There is not enough happening to push back. We are standing up for healthcare. Everyone needs medical care. You should not have to worry about access to it, nor have to budget for it. It should be available to everyone.
Anna: One thing that is especially poignant with me is that the hospital is trying to herd us all to have our children seen at Kaiser. As a nurse who worked here for 10 years, gave my heart and soul to it, I want my babies to be seen here, where I work.
Children’s is at the bottom of wages and benefits as well as training in the Bay Area. We were actually told that we get “psychic benefits” by helping the underserved. I agree with it to some extent, but “psychic benefits” don’t pay rent and don’t put food on my family’s table. The same thing happens to teachers, too. They get low pay and benefits because they want to do a good job for the children regardless of pay. We are fighting for them too.
WE ARE SAYING: ‘ENOUGH’!
Susan: Nurses got ratio laws passed, which control the number of patients that a nurse has to care for. That is really significant, not just in terms of our work-load, but the patients’ care. A lot of our negotiations have revolved around that. But this strike came down to our healthcare coverage. We are all strong proponents of single payer, which would change healthcare for the whole country. But in the meantime, most people get their healthcare through their employer, and because we are a stronger union, a lot of other workers’ benefits are tied to our benefits. Some of us nurses could afford to pay more for healthcare, but we know that none of the housekeepers can. Even the residents settled on everything except healthcare, and agreed to take whatever we get.
Training is another huge issue for us. We have to fight to get it. Floating, for example. If the census is down in the nursery where I work, but high in some other part of the hospital, I may be sent to work on the post-surgical floor, working with 10- or 12-year-olds, who have different ways of taking medications, different chartings and different diseases. I understand the need for that, but give me some training!
It goes beyond that. They say, “Everyone is getting healthcare benefits cuts. What makes you different?” My answer is, somebody needs to stop it. Somebody needs to say “No!” And if it is not healthcare workers who do this, who is it going to be? If we accept the take-back, that is more fuel for other employers to force their workers to take it. Somebody needs to say “enough” and to turn it around. So that is what we are trying to do.