USA - Nurses Strike Back! No to Profits before Patients!

Nurses Strike Back!

No to Profits before Patients!

7000 plus Nurses in 2 Prominent New York Hospitals Demand Better Wages and Safety for Patients

  • Tamarai

Montefiore Medical Center in New York city (NYC), which serves largely a poor population, and a teaching hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Mount Sinai, another key teaching hospital in NYC, have 3500 nurses and 3600 nurses respectively. They went on a 3-day strike starting on January 9th, 2023. The strike paralyzed medical services. It ended on January 12th after negotiations with administration. It has been described as a victory by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), which represented the nurses, but others have described this only as a partial victory. The tentative agreement includes 19% increase in wages over a 3-year period and an assurance of better nurse - patient ratio. While there is a promise of hiring more nurses, it remains to be seen how serious the administrators will be in filling hundreds of positions.

The nurses were not striking just for themselves, even though, wages and work conditions were among the important demands. They were also demanding safe nurse - patient ratio to enhance medical care and to improve outcomes. "We do this job because we love to help and care for our patients, but how can we, with long hours and unmanageable staffing shortages, be ignored?” said Julian Grant a nurse in the organizing committee. Montefiore hospital had mandated nurses to work for 12 hours more after completing their 12 hour shift. There is a petition with the NY Bureau of Labor from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) regarding forcing of nurses to work for 24 hours at a stretch. Some nurses anonymously spoke to BronxTimes about the hospital putting profits over patients. There is a huge national shortage of working nurses. At Montefiore and Mount Sinai hospitals, the total number of unfilled positions were 1200 that resulted in nurses being extremely overworked and caring for too many patients. “Our bosses created the understaffing crisis,” New York State Nurses Association President Nancy Hagans told Politico.

Mount Sinai hospital CEO is reported to have made, at least, $5.6 million (2019) while the Montefiore hospital CEO made $7.4 million (2020). Hospitals across the country received $175 million as part of the CARES Act, 2020, for pandemic relief, but not much trickled down to the employees. A new report from the Lown institute, a healthcare think tank, found that nonprofit hospitals took in $727 million in tax breaks more than they gave back to communities. The nonprofit hospitals are required to serve the underprivileged in their communities to maintain their tax-exempt status.

The University at Albany School of Public Health conducted a large study of the impact of COVID-19 on symptoms and deaths among U.S. healthcare workers. Nearly 450,000 workers were infected with the virus and at least 1,469 died. The deaths were disproportionately seen among Black (27.17%) and Asian (21.47%) population and among younger age group (50-59) compared to general population (over 65). While nurses have been on the frontline dedicating their lives as frontline workers, shortages and mandatory overtime are driving them to leave the profession in droves. One study reported 100,000 nurses quitting the profession in the last few years.

Healthcare Workers Fighting Back

Eight out of 25 work stoppages in 2022 tracked by Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) were organized by healthcare workers. The US BLS only documents major work stoppages involving more than one thousand workers for one shift during the work week. Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) School’s Labor Action Tracker, which documents smaller work stoppages in addition to the major ones has documented 374 strikes in 2022, this is an increase of 39% from the preceding year. Thirty of these strikes in 2022 were of healthcare workers.

In January 2023, 21,000 nurses represented by California Nurses Association were ready to strike for better work conditions and wages. The strike was averted after a tentative agreement was reached. Similarly in Minnesota, in December 2022, 15,000 nurses represented by Minnesota Nurses Association ratified a contract with administration from 15 hospital systems averting a strike at the last minute. “This is a historic victory for nurses and patients at the bedside, but our work is not done. Nurses will continue fighting to oppose the corporate healthcare policies that threaten our hospital systems and the care our patients deserve," said Mary C. Turner, RN at North Memorial Hospital and President of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

David Wagner, in his article, "The Proletarization of Nursing in the U.S.," in 1980 wrote, "Nursing history has been characterized not by a rise in professional autonomy, responsibility, and prestige — as it is sometimes portrayed by professional leaders—but by a diminution of independence, increasing stratification and division of labor, and growing revolt against assembly-line conditions." The rising number of nurses strikes are demanding not just better wages but are also opposing the "profits before patients" of the US privatized health care system.

The unions representing nurses continue to work closely with the Democratic party, one of the two ruling class parties in the U.S., and, thus, have several limitations. Nurses with advanced class consciousness who are in these unions must continue to expose the deep malaise in the healthcare system and join hands with other healthcare workers for a publicly funded national health system. Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto "The bourgeoisie ...... has converted the physician, the lawyer,... the man of science, into its paid wage laborers." Physicians will also need to unite with nurses and other healthcare workers to create a better society. This can be done only by dismantling the existing unholy nexus of insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations and hospital chains that have deep connections to the Wall Street.