We’re All We’ve Got

On the Importance of Interdependence

If we have learned anything this year, it is that we are all we have. By we, I mean nurses. By we, I’m referring to our union siblings. Without a voice on the job — which only comes when the workplace is unionized — nurses have little hope for thriving now and in the future.

Over the past few years, my belief has been proven time and again. For instance, healthcare professionals have increasingly been asked to do more with less. We’ve also been expected to sidestep common safety protocols to accommodate more and more people. This is bad for nurses and patients. Most shockingly, if we make an error — even in situations where we are understaffed — we can be held criminally liable.

As nurses, we must watch our back. But we must also watch our fellow healthcare workers’ backs too. I know America promotes individualism. But nursing requires community, especially given short-staffing and a deadly pandemic.

Not What We Expected

While we enter nursing to serve, the conditions in which we work are such that we are often pushed to the edge. Worst, we are trained to provide quality care but routinely asked to overlook factors that compromise such care. Things that would have been problematic pre-COVID, are tolerated during the pandemic. For instance, nurse-to-patient ratios are dangerously high at facilities across the state. Not only does this place nurses in a position of providing less than optimal care, it increases our legal vulnerability.

As we have seen with the RaDonda Vaught case, we cannot count on employers to protect us. The employer’s goal is to protect the institution and the bottom line. Even for employers that are faith-based, their first commitment is to themselves. While health systems’ public-facing marketing materials may denote companies that cares about patients, community, and healthcare professionals, you can tell a lot about a company by how they treat their workforce.

As such, the only entity we can count on is ourselves and our union. Employers will not voluntarily stick up for you. That is why the union is so important. Unions serve as a check on employers and can often work with you to push hospital and health systems to do the right thing.

What Can You Do?

Every good organizer can recite Frederick Douglass words, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has. It never will.” This means rather than waiting for employers to automatically do the right thing, nurses must demand it. We do this by being active in the union, organizing our workplaces, and maintaining a strong line of communication with our union siblings.

Understand the Tools at Your Disposal

Nurses can file a Protest of Assignments to document and challenge unsafe or problematic working conditions. This creates a record that can protect nurses and patients alike.

While not ideal, you can always stop the line. While this tactic is seldom welcomed, it is better to face momentary hostility than long-term consequences.

A nurse with nursing home with 31 patients. She didn’t document properly. This happens. Fill out protest of assignment. Stop the line. It’s here, and it’s real.

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