Last fall, 15,000 nurses were part of a creative coordinated bargaining effort to reshape health care in Minnesota. They won new contract language on safe staffing and substantial raises—things they hadn’t thought possible. But a year later, the Minnesota Nurses Association is riven with conflict. Members are being investigated on charges like “acting against the interests of the bargaining unit.” A candidate for vice president was removed from her elected positions and had her membership suspended, making her ineligible to run for office. How did one of the most exciting rank-and-file union efforts in health care take such a turn?
Registered nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, have taken action against corporate greed and exploitation as well as union-busting tactics. Their strike is into its third month. The 1,700 nurses, represented by United Steelworkers Local 4-200, are demanding safe staffing. Research has proven that adequate nurse to patient ratios save lives. The pandemic was the match that lit the fire around safe staffing. Nurses were pushed to the brink and were no longer willing to put their patients’ lives and their own well-being and professional licenses at risk. Since the strike, RWJU bosses have shown that they undervalue their nurses by suspending health benefits and limiting picket lines at hospital entrances.
I am one of 1,700 nurses on strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We are members of United Steel Workers Local 4-200. The hospital administration has used intimidation, scare tactics, and lies to convince the public that patient care is at the top of their priority list and at the bottom of ours. We have had enough. We are on day 20 of our strike, and nurses are beginning to feel the pressure. Our health insurance ends at the end of this month, and the financial strains of supporting our families on unemployment are growing. We are standing outside of the hospital day and night to show our dedication to achieving a fair contract that benefits us and, most importantly, our patients.
New Brunswick, New Jersey - Nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick were on strike for a fourth day Monday. Staffing levels are a sticking point between the United Steelworkers Local 4-200 and the hospital. After contract talks stalled, more than 1,700 nurses walked off the job Friday. But passion on the picket line is not waning. "Clearly, we're all united for a common purpose here," said Jennifer Kwock. Kwock, who works in the neonatal ICU, said depleted staffing levels create dangerous conditions for patients and cause nurses burnout.
New Brunswick, New Jersey - Judy Danella, president of United Steel Workers Local 4-200 — the union that represents Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s more than 1,700 nurses — stands in a church basement before a room full of her union members. Her voice quavers slightly as she delivers grim news. The hospital management, whose top administrators earn salaries in the millions of dollars, has refused to concede to any of the nurse’s core demands. Friday at 7:00 a.m. they will be locked out of the hospital and on strike. But it is not only the strike that concerns Danella, who is wearing a blue T-shirt that reads: “Safe Staffing Saves Lives.”
Through wet weather in Wichita, Kansas, and scorching heat in Austin, Texas, hundreds of nurses walked picket lines June 27 in a one-day strike for safe staffing and patient safety. Nearly 2,000 nurses represented by National Nurses United (NNU) walked out. They’re trying to get the company to bargain in good faith after winning union elections in the last year at the three struck locations: Ascension’s two campuses in Wichita and Austin’s huge Ascension Seton Medical Center, where 900 nurses work. “Our patients are being shortchanged by management, because they are short staffing our units,” said Monica Gonzalez, a medical-surgical nurse and 19-year veteran of ASMC.
Tania is a mother of four and a new registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Ascension St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois, also known as St. Joe’s. On May 30, at a bargaining meeting with management to negotiate for the union’s next contract, she gave testimony about how her employer allegedly treated her for bringing up safety issues. “I was two weeks off orientation and I was given four acute care patients. I texted our manager… and said ‘this is a recipe for disaster. I can’t handle this,’” she said in her testimony, which was emailed to Workday Magazine by her union, Illinois Nurses Association (INA).
Registered nurses in Texas and Kansas at three Ascension hospitals are moving forward with historic one-day strikes on Tuesday, June 27, to protest management’s resistance to bargain in good faith with RNs for union contracts that would help correct the endemic staffing crisis, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). Driven by their concerns about patient safety, these will be the largest nurse strikes in Texas and Kansas history. Ascension management’s punitive three-day lockout of nurses who go on strike has failed to intimidate them.
When Catherine Kennedy began her career as a registered nurse in California in 1980, staffing situations often resembled the Wild West. On some overnight shifts in San Francisco, Kennedy said, she and one other RN shared responsibility for a 48-bed facility. Their only help was four aides. “It was unmanageable,” Kennedy remembered. “You would work as a team, get through the night, and pray nobody would code [i.e. suffer a cardiac or respiratory arrest].” It took years of prodding, much of it coming from union-organized RNs, to get state legislation passed that mandated far stricter nurse-to-patient ratios than those Kennedy and her colleagues faced back then.
After decades of targeted underfunding, the UK’s National Health Service is on the verge of collapse. Spiking inflation as a result of corporate profiteering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine War have only worsened the situation, as the UK’s 300,000 nurses face staffing shortages on top of a cost of living crisis. All these conditions have driven the Royal College of Nurses to strike. This video is part of an ongoing Workers of the World series about the cost of living crisis in Europe. This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
In 1990, Helen O’Connor came over from Ireland to train as a nurse at Whittington Hospital in North London. ‘In those days, you had decent pay, subsidised canteens, and subsidised accommodation,’ she explains. It was a great career. You could move up the grades, earn money to get a mortgage and buy a house. If you got to sister level, which I did, you could have a really good life. Today, things look different. Fourteen percent of nurses rely on foodbanks, a third have difficulty covering food and heating costs, and three in four NHS Trusts say more nurses are visiting mental health services because of stress, debt, and poverty. As a result of all of this, nurses are leaving the profession in droves. Where did it all go wrong — and how do we put it right?
New York City, New York - Over 7,000 nurses across two hospitals in New York City went on strike early Monday morning after contract negotiations broke down over the hospitals’ refusal to meet nurses’ staffing demands. Nurses at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai in Manhattan walked out at 6 am, saying they are forced to work long hours with huge workloads that leave them burnt out, which could potentially put patients in danger. The workers “have been put in the unfortunate position of having no other choice than to strike,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York AFL-CIO, of which the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) is an affiliate.
Left Voice spoke with Michelle Gonzalez, an ICU nurse at Montefiore Hospital and NYSNA union Executive Committee member, about the impending nurses’ strike in New York City. How did you get involved as a union activist? How long have you been organizing at your hospital? I started advocating for the union about ten years ago, and this is the second time being on the executive committee of my union. I got into organizing because there were all these issues, particularly issues related to understaffing, that affected us in the hospital. We were taking out our frustration on each other instead of coming together and fighting the boss. Many of us are involved now because we want to address the root cause of these problems.
In the spring of 2021, as the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout promised to lift the burden of overwhelmed hospitals, nurses at the University of Michigan were working harder than ever. Understaffing has been a problem for University of Michigan nurses since the 1980s, but it worsened during the pandemic, as patient surges met with hospital-wide cost containment measures that further thinned staff and resources. Over the first year of the pandemic, University of Michigan nurses filled gaps in staffing mainly by volunteering for overtime. As elective procedures resumed, management turned to mandatory overtime — a mechanism written into the union’s 2018 contract as an emergency measure — to staff the hospital. If a unit was short-staffed, supervisors called off-duty nurses.
Hello, my name is Danielle and I’m a nurse at Methodist Hospital. I want to speak a little about the situation we are seeing currently which has led to this strike. HealthPartners permanently closed seven clinics putting 200 people jobless during the pandemic as the company seeks to put profit first—and accessibility for healthcare last. HealthPartners closed thirty pharmacies and left 300 people jobless while also selling their patients to Walgreens pharmacies before the pandemic. HealthPartners bought Park Nicollet Hospital in order to consolidate and control the market. They created an insurance company that double dips into our communities’ wallets. This has resulted in higher prices for medical services and greater leverage to negotiate higher prices from health insurance providers, leading to ever-increasing health care costs for individuals and families.