December 04, 2013

Nurses' voices needed, heeded

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

Nurses and other professionals from NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council, which has members throughout the state, are carrying to their peers back home the message to sign a petition in support of striking hospital nurses in New London, CT.

Connecticut nurses went on strike for five days about the shift in medical services - positions covered by collective bargaining agreements - to newly created satellite clinics staffed by non-union nurses and technicians. When they attempted to return to their jobs earlier this week, they were locked out. The Lawrence and Memorial hospital had hired paid strikebreakers.

"It's intended to weaken unions; to dilute our voice," said Anne Goldman, chair of the HCPC and special nursing representative to the UFT. "It's being done in a very clear voice. But we are the voice against the one percent."

Moving health care professionals to new clinics is a legal maneuver designed to avoid providing wage rates and health insurance agreed to in existing union contracts, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

The AFT, led by President Randi Weingarten, is activating its members to sign petitions to support the nurses. "No one wants to strike, particularly at a century-old hospital where birth, hope and compassionate care play out every day," Weingarten said in an e-mail blast to union members. However, the new personnel the hospital wants to use " will have no voice, no capacity to advocate for high-quality patient care, and no chance to earn a living wage."

Union employees in the health care field are more likely to speak out on behalf of patient care because they have negotiated job protections. They are paid living wages for working life-and-death jobs.

"This isn't Connecticut's problem - it's our problem," said Goldman. Their fight is our fight, she added.

"It's important for those of you in practice to send a message to your colleagues on the picket line," she told the group of school nurses, hospital nurses, visiting nurses, psychologists, health care college professors, and speech and occupational therapists who make up NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council.

"Signing the petition recognizes their struggle and really matters," Goldman said.

Ellen McTigue, a nurse at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, a hospital that has been under threat of closing in a financial battle lasting several years, said support matters when colleagues are up against situations that mean they could lose their jobs and their livelihoods.

Recently, 250 visiting nurses from the Visiting Nurses of New York - members of the Federation of Nurses with the United Federation of Teachers in New York City- lost jobs due to company mismanagement.

State, federal and local government officials came to the Connecticut picket line during the strike to support the nurses and technicians. Their contract expired in mid-November and they filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. They went on a five-day strike beginning Nov. 27.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women, a national organization, is also urging its members to sign the petition in support of the Connecticut nurses and technicians at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stand-with-lm-nurses.