Union nurses across U.S. convene, call for ending Covid, advancing society based on care
Nearly two years into the worst global pandemic in a century, registered nurse delegates to the virtual National Nurses United (NNU) convention came together online October 12 to 14 to strategize on ending Covid-19 and to outline the kind of society nurses want to see emerge from this crisis—a society based on care. The event concluded with delegates passing important resolutions that set guiding principles for the union’s coming work.
“Passing these resolutions helps us in our policy- and decision-making and in coming up with plans of action for the coming years,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN. In addition to calling for a stepped-up fight against Covid, this year’s resolutions also recommitted the union’s fight for workers’ rights, Medicare for All, global health and vaccine equity, and racial and gender justice. The 2021 resolutions passed by NNU delegates are as follows:
Ending the Covid-19 pandemic and preventing the next public health crisis
This resolution emphasized that Covid “has revealed how the devaluation of care work puts the lives of nurses and other health care workers at risk by creating hazardous workplaces through manufactured shortages of vital supplies like optimal PPE, unsafe staffing, and a general lack of resources to support a safe working environment.” Citing the “profit-driven” hospital practices that have contributed to health care worker deaths and community spread, delegates committed NNU to building collective power across the country and around the world as “a critical protection against the corporate practices, political failures, and systemic inequities that worsened the impact of Covid-19” and that make us vulnerable to future pandemics. The resolution also called for greater investment in and public oversight of national PPE stockpiles; expanding public health capacity at the local, state, and federal level; passing federal safe nurse-to-patient staffing limits; dramatically increasing funding for public health professionals--with a focus on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities; taking a multi-layered approach to preventing the spread of infectious disease; ending vaccine apartheid; and more.
Strengthening our rights to collective action
This resolution included opposition to anti-union “right to work” legislation in Congress and states; opposition to corporate health care industry assaults on RN rights, pay, benefits, health and safety, and patient advocacy; support for increased NNU union organizing to protect nurses and patients from the corporate health care agenda; and opposition to labor-management schemes and sectoral bargaining partnership proposals that are an impediment to the survival and growth of the labor movement.
Against crisis standards of care to secure holistic RN nursing practice to protect patients
This resolution included engaging in a campaign against profit-driven health care restructuring and permanent life-threatening crisis of care standards, including shifting care to less regulated or unregulated settings, self-service with personal technology, or ambulatory surgery centers or the home, and substituting unsupervised, unlicensed, and family caregivers for direct hands-on patient care from an RN. It also condemned the use of race-norming technology in diagnosis and treatment of patients; use of electronic surveillance, record keeping, and data collection to impose additional charges for profits; degrading RN staffing standards through telehealth/telenursing, team nursing, and other schemes to remove direct-care nurses from their patients; expansion of nurse licensure compacts to additional states that erodes nursing practice and safe patient care; and employer use of surveillance technology and other tactics that substitute for the presence of direct-care RNs.
Medicare for All in the wake of Covid-19
Reaffirming NNU’s long-standing support for an improved Medicare for All-Single Payer health care system, this resolution declared health care a human right guaranteed for all people in the United States. It also called for elimination of all health disparities based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, where one lives, or immigration status; prioritizing public health to plan for and mitigate infectious disease outbreaks; winning Medicare for All legislation at both the national and state levels through nurse-led, grassroots mobilization in coalition with labor and community allies; expanding existing Medicare to facilitate the transition to a universal Medicare for All; and reallocating money currently spent on policing, incarceration, and the military for national and state single-payer programs.
Promoting gender justice in the workplace and beyond
This resolution called for supporting legislative, legal, and collective efforts to end gender pay disparities; a continued fight for optimal PPE, safe staffing, and ending workplace violence; workplace leave for victims of domestic violence; protecting the personal safety for transgender and gender non-conforming workers, as well as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other workers of color; opposition to all federal, state, and judicial restrictions on women’s health services including reproductive care, forced sterilizations, and limits on birth control. The resolution also endorsed federal paid parental leave and universal, high quality childcare for all families; improved and expanded family and sick leave, unemployment insurance to increase women’s and gender-oppressed people’s autonomy to be freed from the need to stay in at-risk jobs to hold onto health insurance or paychecks; and promotion of pro-labor women and gender-oppressed people who advance feminist policies to public office.
Reaffirming NNU’s commitment to racial justice
Declaring racism and white supremacy to be a public health crisis, this resolution called for supporting transformative changes to protect the health, safety, and personal security of all people to live in an environment free of violence and discrimination; challenging corporate health care industry practices that have a disproportionate impact on patients and communities of color, such as hospital closures and service cuts, patient dumping, industry pricing practices, medical debt lawsuits, and inadequate provision of charity care; increased federal, state, and local funding to Black, Brown, and Indigenous individuals to account for lack of access to health services and historic health care disparities and exposure to Covid-19 due to concentration as essential workers. Further, it called for an end to racist immigration policies; opposition to all voter suppression laws and support for expanding voting rights; an end to use of weapons of war and militarized force against people protesting racial injustice; support for systemic changes in harmful and fatal policing practices; decriminalization of minor drug offenses and an end to cash bail, minimum sentencing laws, and for-profit private prisons; structural reforms to increase economic opportunity for communities of color including affirmative action, guaranteed incomes, decent housing, and public school funding; and support for reparations for Black Americans and greater investment in Black communities to address effects of structural racism tied to centuries of slavery and segregation.
Global health and international solidarity
This resolution called for continuing to build the Global Nurses United network of global nurses unions; commitment to the global fight against privatization and cuts in public health services and programs; support for expanding working people’s democracy and defeating right-wing authoritarian repression; applauding Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade medical solidarity and Cuba’s commitment to sharing Covid-19 vaccines with other nations; opposition to U.S. aid to nations that use such aid to violate the human rights of civilians; support for multilateral global diplomacy as an alternative to war and punitive sanctions; support for the rights of all immigrants to social and economic resources including health care; opposition to immigration policies of family separation and inhumane conditions; commitment to climate justice policies, including just transition for workers and communities away from an extractive fossil fuel economy; support for Indigenous sovereignty and universal application of services and resources to improve living standards; and redirection of military spending and foreign aid used in violation of human rights for global health infrastructure.
National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union of registered nurses in the United States with more than 175,000 members nationwide.