On December 6, 2021, NYSNA will host our first ever statewide bargaining conference. It is an opportunity to unite workers across regions and systems and prepare for upcoming contract negotiations. The conference will feature educational courses, regional and systemwide breakouts, strategy sessions and more. Because many employers are statewide or rapidly expanding across NY, we want to ensure that em-ployees who are separated by buildings but employed by the same system can work collaboratively to develop strategies to improve patient care.
We know that the convening on bargaining comes at a pivotal moment in workers’ lives. The nation is still in the throes of one of the worst pandemics in generations, and a lot of people have yet to recover. Many people are still grappling with shifts in how we work, worship, teach and learn, and live. Despite all that, some employers are still offering performative actions over substantive change. We have heard stories
of hospitals offering pizza and platitudes without addressing workers’ underlying needs. In other words, rhetoric has not been matched by changes in policies, practices and pay.
It Began Slowly
Working people, however, are resisting. Just like attempting to start a fire with semi-damp wood, initially the fire doesn’t start. Then a spark begins slowly, with a flicker we think will dissipate. But now it is growing. With a time and wind, the fire will escalate. The fire represents the pleas from workers demanding change. For instance, 800 nurses at St. Vincent hospital in Massachusetts and 1,100 coal miners in Alabama went on strike earlier this year.
Ten thousand John Deere workers are also on strike, and tens of thousands of other workers at other workplaces have been on the verge of striking. For instance, 60,000 film and television workers in the union IATSE came close to striking before forcing their employers to give them a fair contract.
Channel KARE 11 in Minnesota noted that there have been 176 strikes this year, and a “local nurses strike that resulted in the temporary closure of Allina’s Abbott Northwestern WestHealth ER and Urgent Care was the 17th strike in October.”
By contributing to the strike fund and going to the picket line, NYSNA members directly supported the 2000 CWA nurses and healthcare workers who were on strike at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo for 35 days. The CWA nurses reached a “groundbreaking” tentative agreement.
The wave of work stoppages is now being called “Striketober.” What is happening at workplaces is indicating several things. First, many em-ployers are trying to demonize workers by saying they’re refusing to be vaccinated and therefore compromising others. But what those em-ployers are not saying is that it is a minority of workers who have yet to be vaccinated. They’re also not revealing the investments that em-ployers need to make, beyond mandates, to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Next, work stoppages are not about workers being unwilling to work. They are about people demanding improved working conditions. And until more people organize and come together to bargain collectively, it will be increasingly difficult to gain the types of wages and benefits that improve life not just for workers and the families but for the communities they serve.
So far though, many employers appear to be passing the buck or feigning ignorance. NYSNA Field Director Eric Smith shared with me re-cently, “One of the biggest employers in the country, Kaiser Permanente, emerged from the pandemic thinking they could give 1% pay in-creases with 1% bonuses only, and an even worse two-tier wage scale for new nurses. If that is where Kaiser is, what about the other health systems. After all healthcare workers have endured, what makes Kaiser think workers deserve less? Moreover, how does this proposal line up with what the CEO earned last year?”
Never Give Up
We know that employers are not automatically benevolent. They don’t always wake up and decide to do right by their employees. That is why it is imperative for workers to stick together and to continue pushing back. But non-unionized workers must appreciate that given the broader issues facing workers, they too should come together to bargain collectively.
Following our convention this past October, we are doubling-down on our commitment to continuing advocating for our fellow nurses, pa-tients and communities. I hope you will stay engaged and join me and hundreds of other nurses at the retreat on Dec. 6. Sign up here: http://bit.ly/NYSNABargainingRetreat.