The Heat is On

Submitted by ADonahue on
Large picket line of nurses holding various signs

Temperatures are rising up across the country — and so are U.S. union nurses

By Bonnie Castillo, RN

National Nurse Magazine - July | August | September 2023 Issue

The Farmer’s Almanac has released its 2023 summer weather predictions, and it looks like it’s going to be “sizzling” for most of the country. But nurses didn’t need a guide to tell us it’s going to be a real scorcher; we’ve already been bringing the heat for months now: in our workplaces, in our state capitals, in the halls of our U.S. Congress, and everywhere union nurses can stand up and fight collectively for a healthier, safer society.

From lobbying and bargaining, to rallying and protesting, NNU nurses have been on the move! Let’s start by taking a closer look at all we’ve accomplished in our individual states. New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) members have successfully defended nursing scope of practice and licensing standards in their state budget, as well as successfully advocating for and winning additional Medicaid and safety-net funding. 

NYSNA members also faced the first big test of the groundbreaking staffing ratios and enforcement mechanisms they won last January as a result of the Mount Sinai strike. Mount Sinai nurses enforced their contract and brought the hospital to arbitration, winning — for the first time anywhere — financial penalties for persistent understaffing. NYSNA also had major contract victories in the rural North Country region of the state and on Long Island. 

Maine State Nurses Association-NNOC, Michigan Nurses Association, and Minnesota Nurses Association members have been busy fighting to advance safe staffing legislation in their states. Union nurses know that we can’t recruit and retain enough nurses to solve the staffing crisis and keep our patients safe when our employers just drive nurses away with unsafe working conditions. So we will never stop fighting to advance safe staffing ratios at the state level, while we also fight for national protections through federal legislation.

A special shout out to the Minnesota nurses for staging a sit-in at their capitol to protest the Mayo Clinic’s threat to withdraw billions in investment if their blackmail demands are not met to kill safe staffing legislation. Nurses will never be bullied into silence!

In Kansas and Texas, Ascension nurses are in bargaining, and escalating their fight for strong first contract protections. As this issue is going to print, Ascension nurses in Wichita and Austin have voted overwhelmingly to authorize strikes for safe patient care, what could be the first RN strike in Kansas history, and the first RN strike in an acute-care setting, as well as the largest RN strike, in Texas history.  Ascension nurses will keep holding their employers’ feet to the fire until patients and nurses have the protections they need!

HCA registered nurses across the country are sounding the alarm on their employers’ focus on profits over safe patient care, as they embark on an “RNRx for Change” campaign. Their demands include safe staffing according to our federally proposed ratios legislation, stricter penalties for violating staffing grids, guaranteed meal and rest breaks, and more critical protections to recruit and retain nurses. NNU nurses across the country are with HCA nurses in their fight!

California Nurses Association (CNA) members recently held their annual lobby day, marching through the state capital demanding change. CNA nurses urged state legislators to support critical legislation on ending employer-driven debt and exploitative employment contracts, ensuring optimal behavioral health care services, protecting health care workers and patient from toxic surgical smoke, making it easier for nurses to receive workers’ comp for work-related illnesses and injuries, and guaranteeing health care to all people in California as a human right.

NNU also held our national lobby day in early May. Hundreds of nurses from across the country gathered online for virtual lobby visits with federal members of Congress. Challenging the hospital industry’s false narrative of a “nursing shortage,” the nurses urged Congress instead to deal with the real crisis of unsafe staffing levels by passing our federal ratios bill, The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (S. 1113/H.R. 2530), introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

NNU nurses also lobbied for The Medicare for All Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingell. We were so proud that NYSNA President and NNU President Nancy Hagans, RN, spoke at the Medicare for All town hall hosted by Sanders and Jayapal in Washington, D.C. in May. 

Other bills NNU nurses lobbied to advance include The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (S. 1176/H.R. 2663); The Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act (S. 567/HR 20); and The Veterans Administration Employee Fairness Act.

We are so proud of all the ways NNU nurses are bringing the heat recently — more examples than we could possibly fit in this column. There are countless acts of patient advocacy and union solidarity happening every single day in our facilities. One thing we know for sure is that from national lobbying to local actions, when union nurses stand together, change is in the forecast. Here’s to a hot labor summer!

Bonnie Castillo, RN is executive director of National Nurses