One of the largest non-nurse health care strikes in Pacific Northwest history began at 6:30 a.m. this morning, shedding light on skilled workers who often get overlooked. We’re demanding that PeaceHealth, a Jesuit-run health system, raise wages and fix critically short staffing—two issues that are closely related. The strikers are 1,300 workers at two hospitals in southwest Washington: PeaceHealth Southwest in Vancouver, and PeaceHealth St. John in nearby Longview. The strike will last five days; workers will return to work October 28. PeaceHealth had announced that it would cut off health insurance if the strike continued into November.
There ought to be nine nurses on the day shift at 9 Tower, a trauma surgery unit inside the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Instead, some days there are just three. “Sometimes I’d look at a patient’s face and know that I won’t be able to maybe help feed them when they need to be fed,” said nurse Sophia Moccio, “or clean them when they need to be cleaned. It is distressing, and depressing for us.” Staffing levels this bad are a major reason why she and 1,700 of her co-workers at RWJUH have been on strike since August 4. Nurses in her 34-bed unit often have to manage the care of six patients apiece—and sometimes seven or eight.
On October 4, 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in several US states are set to go on strike for three days following the breakdown of contract negotiations last week. A coalition of several unions representing health workers in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, and Washington, DC is battling the nonprofit health giant for safe staffing levels, cost of living pay increases, and against a two-tier pay system that Kaiser is trying to introduce. The largest union in the coalition is Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) with 57,443 members, but the coalition also includes Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 30, SEIU Local 49, OPEIU Local 2 and others.