Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Signs of Life from Unions: Nurses Get Feisty, SEIU Takes Advantage of Globalization

It is hard to see how one counters the increasing income disparity in the U.S. without a significant component of the effort coming from wage earners themselves. The labor movement in this country has been in decline, in terms of membership, for decades. Being the only existing conduit for wage-earner discontent, it is important that labor unions begin to acquire more members, and the additional political clout that will come with growth. It was encouraging to come across articles indicating new momentum in the labor movement.

There was a report issued in October by the Institute of Medicine, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommending an expanded role for nurses as a means of improving healthcare and reducing costs. The specific points of emphasis were:
“Nurses should practice to the full extent of their education and training.”

“Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.”

“Nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health care professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.”

“Effective workforce planning and policy making require better data collection and information infrastructure.”
If nurses are to play an expanded role in the existing system they will need a voice that can speak with as much influence as that possessed by doctors and hospitals. A recent article in the Washington Post points out that nurses are getting organized on a national level and are becoming more aggressive.
“National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the country, has helped organize strikes or threatened them this year at hospitals in California, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota. The Oakland, Calif.-based union has tapped into concerns of registered nurses worried about losing jobs at a time when hospitals and health-care organizations are under enormous pressure to cut costs.”

"’They have been very aggressive in legislative lobbying efforts, influencing public policy through informational picketing, and willingness to get out there and strike,’ said Joanne Spetz, an economist who specializes in nursing workforce issues at the University of California at San Francisco. ‘Love them or hate them, you have to respect their success’."

“The union also sported a high-profile campaign during the recent midterm elections by attacking Republicans for their positions on health care. They targeted Meg Whitman, who lost to Jerry Brown in California's governor's race, and Sharron Angle, who was defeated by Democratic incumbent Harry Reid in Nevada's Senate race.”
There are 3 million registered nurses in this country. Suitably organized, they could be a potent force. When questioned about aggressive tactics, the Union leader, Rose Ann DeMoro replied:
"’Absolutely,’ she said. "If you are going to advocate for nurses and patients, and if you are meek, these hospitals will roll right over you’."
You have to like that reply. Go for it nurses!

After decades of being battered by globalization and low wage competition from other countries, unions have figured out a way to make globalization work in their favor. There is an article in The American Prospect by David Moberg, Translating Solidarity, that described an effort by SEIU to take advantage of an opportunity provided by globalization.

The author tells the story of a food concession worker in Ohio who worked for the French-owned company Sodexo (380,000 workers in 80 countries). Contrast the conditions experienced by the worker in Ohio and by the Sodexo workers in France.
“Sodexo touts that it's ‘a great place to work.’ But on her part-time hours and low pay ($9 an hour or less until recently, after she began organizing and got a raise and a full work week), Snell had to raise her five children with the help of Medicaid, food stamps, and public assistance. When her Medicaid coverage ended, she could not afford Sodexo's insurance or her heart medicine and then needed bypass surgery.”

“French Sodexo union leaders Jean-Michel Dupire and Gerard Bodard say that after visiting Columbus last spring, they were shocked by differences between the lives of Americans like Snell and French Sodexo workers -- and the difference between Sodexo's self-image and reality. In France, anyone can easily join a union, and everyone in the food services is under union contracts. Most French Sodexo workers earn the minimum wage (about $12 an hour), but they have comprehensive public health insurance, a much more generous public pension, full work weeks, and six weeks paid vacation. (Snell will get her first few vacation days next year.)”
The French workers are worried that Europe could be contaminated by the atrocious working conditions in the U.S.
"’I think we'll help each other,’ Bodard says, ‘because we're working for a global company, and the only way for us to go is to build global power. In France, we've put pressure on Sodexo and given publicity [to U.S. conditions] so everyone in the sector knows about it’."

“Reflecting the growing worry that multinational companies will bring U.S. labor standards to Europe, Bodard adds, ‘What I'm going for is equal treatment, but it's also important to bring everyone to the top, not the bottom’."

"’The French workers stood by us and want to help us get a union,’ Snell says. ‘They actually cried when we told them our stories. ... By workers from other states and countries going together, it shows we really want a union’."
This type of activity seems to have been going on for some time.
“Such tangible global solidarity will be key to developing global union power that can counterbalance the expanding influence of multinational corporations. SEIU Executive Vice President Tom Woodruff, director of Change to Win's Strategic Organizing Center, believes unions must unite across borders to organize, because union membership as a fraction of the workforce is declining nearly everywhere. ‘Only if unions build organizing across borders can workers get a fair share from their employers,’ he says. ‘More U.S. unions and unions in other countries are involved, but global campaigning is really an underdeveloped technology’."
I cannot even recall the last time I encountered an encouraging story about the labor movement. Let’s hope there are more to come.

1 comment:

  1. Nursing is becoming more and more technical and requires more sophisticated understanding of disease processes, treatments, and pharmacology. Nurses also want to be treated as professionals rather than semi-skilled workers. To these ends, the current trend favors four year degrees rather than the shorter programs. Many nurses opt to get a two year degree either at a diploma school or community college, then return to complete a BSN while they gain work experience. Some hospitals pay BSN graduates slightly more (mostly as an incentive to obtain a BSN), but the job assignments are identical.

    school scholarships


Lets Talk Books And Politics - Blogged