NURSES LABOR DISPUTE - A medical professional once told me that a hospital is one of the most dangerous places a sick person can be. It struck me as an odd assertion coming from an insider. I assumed he was referring to diseases and such but I was mistaken. It is not a preponderance of staph infection but a lack of staff that may kill you. With all the labor disputes happening right now, it is difficult to keep track of who is fighting who for what, but in the case of the PIH Good Samaritan Hospital nurses dispute, the outcome could literally mean the difference between life or death.
Previous to calling a strike, the nurses’ union held its tongue through a pandemic, as hospital staff continued to show up and save the lives of others while risking their own. How did PIH management show their gratitude? By offering lower wages, inadequate staffing, stalled contract negotiations and decreased health insurance coverage...and of course, meaningless “nurses are heroes” themed slogans to remind the public how “we are all in this together.”
Well, we are definitely not all in this together. Financing medical care during an outbreak is not the same as fighting it head-on with “booties” on the ground. (That’s a hospital joke ;) The folks at PIH Health seem to have forgotten the name of their own hospital and more importantly, the prime directive of medicine, that is, to help sick people and save lives. Even doctors will tell you that nurses are a critical part of patient safety. Not to belittle the writers’ strike, but having our Netflix shows go dark does not compare with the immediate danger that insufficient hospital staffing brings. (We are with you writers!)
A shift of a hospital nurse mandates long hours, short lunches and the constant pressure of knowing that one mistake can kill a patient. Short staffing a hospital adds avoidable and unnecessary risk to an already precarious situation. Would you want your family member’s safety compromised during a hospital visit because there simply weren’t enough nurses to attend to their needs? I hope that we are not at the point where in 2023 America, expecting life and death services to be held to the highest standard is now just a nostalgic baby boomer memory.
In the medical field, toxic working conditions have repercussions throughout our communities. Not only does it create unnecessary heartache for the staff, but a clear unacceptable and avoidable danger for the patient. Constant monitoring is often needed for most patients and when a nurse is assigned too many, it becomes overwhelming for the nurse and hazardous for the patient. Why would a nurse or a patient want to be subjected to that? Has profit become not only King, but a mad and cruel one now?
Saving lives is a part of the cost of doing business in the hospital field so if PIH can’t figure out a way to do that without cutting nurses and endangering patients, then they need to find somewhere else to park their money. In the meantime, offering scab nurses $140 an hour, twice that of the average staff nurse, while locking out their own staff does little to endear management’s argument to the public. (All this, while offering staff nurses their current substandard salary to cross the picket line, working next to temps earning almost twice their salary and ruining their relationships with striking coworkers.)
All the time and money that went into the essential worker “hero” campaign during COVID does little to actually help patients or nurses, so please spare us the meaningless slogans and provide us with a real nurse when we need one.
One ridiculous hill that management was willing to die on, was refusing extended sick leave for nurses. The cost per temporary agency nurse is about $12,000 for 60 hours of work. The cost of extended sick leave per staff RN would be about $3000 per year! With accounting like that, it is no wonder PIH is unable to operate in the black. This bargaining position seems more spiteful than warranted.
PIH has been operating in breach of state mandated staffing ratios while California Nurses Association waited patiently through a pandemic for staffing ratios to be brought up to safe levels. Instead, management was intending on locking out their nurses for four days over a one-day strike during NATIONAL NURSES WEEK! As nurses prepare to strike for similar reasons across the country, the typical cliche press release from management attempts to convince the public how striking nurses are “endangering patient care.” Comparing a 24-hour strike with years of systemic under staffing by management is of course, a sophomoric false equivalency.
Unions brought you your weekends, living wages, the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, safety in the workplace and a voice to advocate for a better life with your family. Union money cannot silence corporate funded demonization campaigns, but you can choose not to listen. Keep in mind, a Union is an idea born of historically desperate necessity and only as strong and righteous as its leadership and members. The people who populate them can be good or bad, but the concept must be vigilantly protected and never taken for granted.
As corporate billionaire mission creep slowly extinguishes any memory of the danger of monopolies and the reasons for anti-trust laws, remember that the goals of workers and the goals of corporations are vastly and categorically different. As you form your opinion about PIH nurses’ grievances, remember this: They are asking for safe levels of staffing, to undo a three year pay freeze and to retain their current extended sick leave allowance.
The strike evaded at the last minute, PIH nurses are back at work for now and continuing to fight for something bigger than themselves...your mom, your dad, your sister and you. No one wants to end up in a hospital, but if you do, you certainly want to know that you are receiving the best care possible. As nurses struggle to protect that right, don’t forget how ridiculous it is that they should have to.
(Bernard Marx has been an outsider all his life. Unwilling to accept the constant gaslighting inherent in modern society, he sits in his study near the village green far away from the trappings of the big city and furiously hammers out his antiquated ideas on his beloved 1886 Crandall typewriter.)