It May Not Be Making Headlines But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Over….Update on EBOLA

Although EBOLA has all but vanished from the news it is still not over by any measure. RN DeAnn McEwen, Nursing Practice, Health and Safety Specialist for National Nurses United joins Casey and Shayne to talk about current issues and remaining challenges in the fight. DeAnn also talks about the recent donation of $40K made by RN Response Network to help those on the front lines in West Africa.

By Pattie Lockard
Executive Producer
Nurse Talk Radio


Segment: Play clip in new window

Full Podcast: Play in new window | (Duration: 11:59)


DeAnn McEwen, RN




Nurses Stand in Solidarity with Steelworkers Amid Safety Concerns

National Nurses United fully supports the United Steelworkers Union (USW) struggle for improved health and safety and a fair contract for workers at oil refineries across the U.S.

NNU is especially alarmed at the serious threat for workers and residents of local communities near the refineries posed by unsafe staffing levels, excessive worker overtime demands, and the reports of daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that put tens of thousands of people in danger. 

Nurses are well aware of the rise of asthma and other respiratory, cardio, and other serious health problems, as well as the consequences of refinery accidents caused by unsafe oil company and refinery practices. That is why it is so vital for workers to have a strong voice on the job through their union to protect public safety as well as the health of their own members.

NNU also supports the USW fight against sub-contracting of union jobs and other contract standards that are a part of this dispute.

The hard line adopted by the wealthy oil corporations is symbolic of what nurses and other working people experience on a regular basis in an environment where workers’ rights and livelihood as well as public health and safety are too often jeopardized by voracious employers and the politicians who support them.  

NNU members have already stood with USW members on picket lines at various locations in this fight, and we will continue to offer our solidarity. We also call on our elected officials to demand the oil giants, who receive so much economic and political assistance from government, stop their attack on the oil workers and reach a fair settlement that respects the workers’ rights as well as public safety. 

Nurse’s Court Win Shows Workers Can Beat Koch Brothers-Style Attacks

Ann Wayt Defamed for Patient, Union Advocacy
Takes the Fight to the Hospital and Wins

A civil jury has ordered an Ohio hospital, part of one of the most notorious anti-union hospital chains in the U.S., to pay over $2 million in damages for its actions against Ann Wayt, an Ohio registered nurse it fired, illegally sought to have her nursing license revoked, and then defamed in retaliation for her outspoken patient advocacy and support for her union.

NNOC/NNU Co-President Malinda Markowitz, RN praised Wayt for “standing up for herself, her family, and her colleagues against the harassment and attacks by a multi-billion corporation on their right to form a union.”

“This verdict is a clear signal that working people can resist, fight back and win against even the most heavily funded attacks by those like the Koch Brothers and other far right groups and their agenda to eliminate unions, laws that protect workers, and public advocates for public safety and economic and workplace justice,” Markowitz said.

In a unanimous verdict, the Stark County, Ohio jury Friday ordered Affinity Medical Center of Massillon, Oh., operated by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems chain, to pay Wayt $800,000 for defamation of her character and another $750,000 in punitive damages. Affinity was also ordered to pay her attorney fees.

Wayt said she decided to take on the challenge “for Affinity nurses and nurses everywhere who are fighting for their right to stand up for patients. Now they see that nurses are strong and we stick together. We aren’t going to accept their bullying. I am so very thankful for all of the support of my colleagues through this very trying time. We stuck together and we prevailed!”

“CHS and all hospitals across the nation should be reminded that nurses will not be silent when you trample on their rights and try to silence their voice — and that our union will be with you,” Markowitz added.

The decision came over two years after Wayt was fired, and a year after a U.S. District Court Judge delivered a sweeping cease and desist injunction ordering Affinity to reinstate Wayt and end a broad array of lawless behavior in illegal discipline and harassment of its RNs as well as refusing to bargain with its RNs and their union, National Nurses Organizing Committee-Ohio. NNOC Ohio is the state affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of RNs.

Affinity nurses reacted with joy to the jury decision. “Ann has shown that one nurse can hold a healthcare system accountable for its lies and deceptions,” said Affinity RN Debbie McKinney. “This should empower all nurses to stick together for what is best for our patients ourselves and our profession.”

“I am thrilled for Ann and that the Jury cleared her name and reputation. I am also thrilled that the verdict sends a message to Affinity Med. Center that they can not treat their nurses with such contempt,” said Wayt’s attorney Brian Zimmerman.

“It is inspiring to witness the solidarity and commitment of nurses who are always focused on winning the very best protections for their patients,” said NNOC-Ohio’s Michelle Mahon, RN, who testified for Wayt at the trial. “Through their unanimous verdict the jury has sent a message to CHS that this community will not tolerate their law breaking behavior.”

Nurses at Affinity voted in August 2012 to join NNOC-Ohio. Instead of respecting the democratic voice of the nurses and offering to work with them to improve patient care and nurse standards, CHS, which has gained infamy as one of the most anti-union and anti-worker chains in the hospital industry, immediately embarked on a campaign of harassment and retaliation.

Wayt, a prominent union supporter in the hospital’s orthopedics unit, where union support was “particularly strong,” as a National Labor Relations Board Judge Arthur Amchan later noted, was directly targeted, as symbolized by the decision of the hospital to begin an investigation against her on the very day of the election. NNOC-Ohio initiated the case by filing charges with the NLRB.

Affinity management then trumped up charges of patient care misconduct that Amchan termed in July 2013, “a pretext to retaliate against her for her union activity” despite a long “spotless” record as an RN. Affinity not only fired Wayt, it then went to the Ohio Board of Nursing attempting to pressure it to revoke Wayt’s nursing license.

Noting the clear violation of federal labor law rights, Amchan concluded “it is hard to imagine a more effective coercive message to the union supporters… than the termination of a long-term employee with no (or no known) prior disciplinary record.” Wayt has worked at Affinity for 24 years and in 2008 Affinity provided clear recognition of her achievements by presenting her the Nurse Excellence Award.

On the basis of that finding, U.S. District Court Judge John Adams in January, 2014, issued a stinging injunction against Affinity for illegal behavior, including the order to reinstate Wayt. Judge Adams found Affinity’s actions to be “inconsistent with disciplinary actions taken against other persons with similar alleged violations and disproportionate to the offense level.”

Though Affinity was forced to offer Wayt a return to the hospital bedside, it has failed to refrain from defamatory activity against her. Wayt responded with the civil suit that led to the verdict today. Affinity is also stalling in court-ordered bargaining with the nurses’ union.

Providence Nurses Say Enough is Enough: No More Cuts

Refusing to accept current working conditions, scores of California Nurses Association/National Nurses United RNs from three Los Angeles-area Providence hospitals rallied and picketed on the sidewalks of Saint John’s Health Center and Little Company of Mary Torrance, with the same message directed at management at both facilities: ” No cuts!” As they bargain contracts at each of the facilities, nurses demand enforceable staffing language, no cuts in benefits, and enough of a raise in wages to solve Providence’s chronic, and costly, crisis of recruitment and retention.

CNA currently represents Little Company of Mary San Pedro (the first within the Providence hospital system to join CNA over a decade ago, now bargaining its fifth contract), Saint John’s Health Center (on their second contract), and Little Company of Mary Torrance (organized in 2013, on their first contract). Rns cite similar workplace issues at all three facilities.

Providence is cutting corners, nurses say, on staffing and safe patient lifting, creating a dangerous working environment for RNs and patients. Forty percent of the RNs employed at Saint John’s in 2011 have left the hospital. Providence’s cost-cutting jeopardizes the health of both patients and nurses by, as one example, reducing the number of nurses required to lift a patient. The hospital chain is also demanding cuts to its already low wages—Providence executives acknowledge that they pay below market wages and this affects their ability to attract and retain quality staff—and benefits that include paid time off, sick leave, and health and pension. The cost of replacing and training new hires costs an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 per nurse.

To show support for their sisters and brothers, San Pedro RNs drove to Mary Torrance to picket during their morning shift change. “This was the first time management has seen coordinated action by CNA RNs from all three of these hospitals on the same day,” said Chris Busch, RN, a Saint John’s nurse for over 30 years. “If our patient safety and Nurse retention concerns are not addressed, it won’t be the last.”

Book Review: America’s Bitter Pill, by Steven Brill

America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System

By Steven Brill

Random House, 2015


The Clear Winners of Healthcare Reform, and How We Got There

From March 23, 2010 through late January 2015, stock prices of seven of the largest health insurance companies soared from 118 percent to 361 percent, a period in which overall stock prices rose just 75 percent.

March 23, 2010 is also the date President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.

Insurance companies, which gained several million new captive payers required to buy private insurance, were not the only industry insiders to harvest a bonanza. The 25 biggest pharmaceutical companies pocketed more than $100 million in profits in 2013 alone.

Big Pharma, too, gained a lot of new subsidized business through the ACA, a law that Steven Brill in his new work, America’s Bitter Pill, concludes in part produced only “one clear group of winners – the healthcare industry.”

Brill’s main mission is to provide an insider account of the ACA’s inception, enactment, and implementation, through a tale of lobbyists, executive branch and congressional staff, some academics, federal office holders, and techies.

Late in the story, here’s how Brill summarizes the development of the Affordable Care Act:

All the years of Ted Kennedy’s crusading, all of [Senate Finance Committee staffer] Liz Fowler’s drafting, all of the days of wrangling votes on Capitol Hill in 2009 and 2010, all of the backroom deals and furious lobbying by all those industry players, all of the frantic efforts to game the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] scoring process, all of the millions of hours and billions of dollars spent writing regulations and building the almost junked website…

In the nearly 500 pages of the book, a few ordinary people do appear, but only as victims of the healthcare industry, whose struggles as patients, mostly with unpayable bills, demonstrate the need for reform.     

Missing from this account are the thousands of nurses and other healthcare and community activists who have worked for years for fundamental transformation of what Brill colorfully calls a “dysfunctional healthcare house (that) with the bad plumbing and electricity, leaky roof, broken windows, and rotting floors, would never have been built and become so entrenched in its special interest foundations that it could not be torn down.”

But tearing it down, because of its fundamental corruption and what Brill also calls “a broken down jalopy,” is exactly the cure advocated by nurses and the activists who have long campaigned for real reform, through an expanded and improved Medicare for all.

Even while conceding that single-payer or national healthcare is the “path taken by every other developed country, all of which produce the same or better healthcare results than we do at a far lower cost,” Brill simply dismisses that as an alternative to the ACA. Of course, so did all the key players he profiles, from Congressional and White House staff to the top Democrats at the helm of the process, including former single-payer advocates Ted Kennedy and President Obama.

We do get a clear report on the many deals cut with the corporate healthcare industry, including with the drug companies, hospitals, and insurance companies in particular. Most of this is known from newspaper accounts, but Brill does bring it into a strong story narrative.

His primary critique is on the high charges and profits of corporate hospitals and drug companies. He exposes the high chargemasters of hospitals and other industry price gouging, recounting many examples first told in his highly regarded March 2013 Time magazine article also titled “Bitter Pill.”

Brill deconstructs the false pharmaceutical pretext that high drug prices are necessary for “research,” detailing the drug companies’ higher spending on marketing and administration than on research and development, not to mention huge public subsidies for that research.

Brill is generally soft on the insurance companies. He over emphasizes the “lower” profit margins of insurance companies compared to hospitals, and sharply criticizes the Obama administration and the president personally for hypocritically attacking the insurers, then utilizing insurance consultants to rescue the federal insurance exchange website.

While noting the insurers’ top objective, the mandate to deliver all those new paying customers, Brill neglects another major objective the insurers also won, protecting their anti-trust exemption so they can effectively collude on prices and market share, as reported by Matt Taibbi and others.

To be fair, Brill does an admirable job pointing out the high out-of-pocket costs for many, even after application of the very expensive subsidies given to the uninsured to purchase private insurance through the health exchanges. He also nicely exposes the facade of the “Medical Loss Ratio” as a cost-saving device which is easily manipulated by the insurers to count bookkeeping and other non-care activities as a medical expense.   

While Brill is unsparing in detailing many of the gaping problems of the ACA and devotes nearly half the book to nearly tedious descriptions of the well-chronicled failure of the ACA rollout which Brill blames, with some justification, on President Obama’s “failure to govern,” Brill ultimately strongly defends the ACA.

In his words, “Obamacare gave millions of Americans access to affordable healthcare, or at least protection against not being able to pay for a catastrophic illness or being bankrupted by the bills. Now everyone has access to insurance and subsidies to help pay for it. That is a milestone toward erasing a national disgrace.”

But, he concedes, the law “hasn’t come close to making health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs low enough that healthcare is truly affordable to everyone, let alone affordable to a degree that it is in every other developed country.” A reminder of that reality comes from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey that nearly 30 million Americans remain uninsured, largely because of the cost (though many also because of the botched rollout Brill describes of an absurdly complicated law.)

Brill concludes not by recommending the single-payer solution adopted by most of those other developed countries, but by a fix that would make many nurses gasp – regional-based integrated care networks of hospitals and insurance companies acting as oligopolies or monopolies regulated as public utilities led by doctor-CEOs who will align the incentives “in the right way.”

One model he cites is the Cleveland Clinic, led by heart surgeon Dr. Toby Cosgrove. Brill may not realize this hospital system also demonstrates that having an Ivory Tower medical center in one’s backyard does little to improve the health of a community.  Within the three miles surrounding the Cleveland Clinic area, infant mortality exceeds some Third World countries. The system is frequently under attack for failing to meet their charity care obligations and shifting the burden of caring for uninsured and underinsured to the lone public safety net hospital. Meanwhile, the system is grossing $11.63 billion and posted over $900 million in profits in 2013 alone.  

The Cleveland Clinic has also been cited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for violating Medicare rules more than three dozen times since 2010. In 2013 alone, the system was cited for 23 health and safety issues. 

Nurses may question whether regulation and lower executive salaries, as Brill proposes, would correct all that. He argues that his system would make healthcare a public good out of the free market, but when he talks about aligning incentives, he gives short shrift to hands-on care and resourcing the provision of care by highly skilled clinicians exercising their professional judgment. Phrases such as safe, therapeutic care or a single standard of care not based on ability to pay don’t enter the lexicon of the regulated “integrated healthcare oligopolists” led by rightly aligned beneficent doctors who are allowed reasonable profits.

Compared to saving money through a truly universal system of guaranteed healthcare, cost controls through global budgets for hospitals that cover actual annual expenses for patient care, regulated prices and bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, and negotiated fees for providers, Brills’ approach is inadequate. Rather than dismissing single-payer, he could investigate how to pull the levers of power and overcome the industry he cogently criticizes.

Brill’s own experiences as a patient feature prominently in his conclusions and nurses may wish that the patient’s understanding of the system led to more insight about how to change it.

– Michael Lighty and Charles Idelson

   Michelle Mahon contributed to this review

Nurses Rally at EPA Hearing, Champion Public Health

Just got back from today’s public hearing regarding the EPA’s proposed new surface ozone standard. Matthew Elliott, from Kaiser South Sac, spoke on behalf of RNs everywhere about the need to confront and tackle the negative health effects of air pollution on our communities. We were the only Union in attendance and Matt’s comments, delivered from the perspective of a direct care RN, clearly had a profound impact on the panel.

We were joined today, of course, by the Sierra Club, who led the way with fantastic comments and analysis. During a lunch break, SC held a rally at Cesar Chavez Plaza Park across the street from the hearing location. There, over a hundred students from across CA joined with members from almost a dozen community, religious, and environmental groups to demand a more stringent smog standard.

Nurses were the highlight of the rally. More than 50 were attending a CE class nearby, and they marched down J Street in red scrubs and surgical masks, chanting Clean Air Is Health Care (led by Kevin Baker, Michael Unimuke, Maryanne Henke, and others, who did a fantastic job keeping up with the changing logistics.) The group in Cesar Chavez heard us coming down the street and took up our chants. Once we arrived, students and community allies grabbed our signs and joined with the nurses in denouncing industry efforts to loosen air quality standards.

Even the EPA administrators were impressed with the rally. They mentioned it right before the afternoon session began, where Matt and I gave our comments. All in all, I think it was a great success.

On the policy/analysis side of the equation, we still have a lot of work to do. The final rules will not be published until about Oct. 2015. This is a complicated issue with important consequences for the working class. I was able to follow the industry’s comments and am confident we can undermine their arguments and agenda. SC and others would also provide an excellent source for sound policy analysis. Our final written comments are due March 17, so thankfully, there’s time to work.

Thanks for inviting me to participate. Had a blast.





Pharma, healthcare’s 8-ton gorilla, comes under increasing scrutiny


For all the heavy weights in the healthcare industry, that industry that now gobbles about one fifth of the U.S. economy, none has more weight to throw around than the pharmaceutical giants.

Big drug companies make the most profit, mark up their prices the most, have the most clout in Congress and other elected officials, and generally get whatever they want.

But public pressure on the price gouging on drugs is now ratcheting up.

This past week after Gildead Sciences, a U.S. biopharmaceutical company, agreed to discount its $1,000 a pill hepatitis C drug Sovaldi in Germany, a number of mainstream U.S. healthcare journalists raised again the question of why should U.S. drug companies give discounts in other countries that are not available in the U.S.

FiercePharma, an industry website, noted that drug price deals in Germany and the United Kingdom are “closely watched in other countries” that expect similar price breaks. And further that Gildead continues to face heavy “pressure” from developing nations “to provide its vaunted treatments to poor patients at accessible prices.” [Source:]

Developing nations, and HIV/AIDS activists in particular, have been protesting price gouging by the drug kings for years.

Doctors Without Borders also took aim at two of the biggest drug giants GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer in a report in mid-January calling on the two firms to reduce the price of a new vaccine against pneumococcal disease needed by children in the developing world. “Because of the astronomical cost of new vaccines, many governments are facing tough choices about which deadly diseases they can afford to protect their children against,” said the group in its report. [Source:]

The heat from that report prompted the world’s richest man Bill Gates, who counts on a philanthropic reputation in developing nations to soften his corporate image, felt compelled to speak out in defense of big pharma. “Criticism by health campaigners of the high prices of some vaccines only serves to deter pharmaceutical companies from working on life-saving products for poor countries,” was how London’s Guardian newspaper summed up Gates’ views. [Source:]

It’s hard to shed too many tears for the drug companies. In 2013 alone, the 25 wealthiest giants racked up more than $100 billion.  Johnson and Johnson set the pace with more than 13.8 billion in profit, according to data from Thomson ONE Banker.

That buys a lot of clout. Especially in the U.S. where the drug lobbyists have for years killed off proposals to allow Medicare, for example, to negotiate discount drug prices the way countries with national health systems do.

In his new book on the Affordable Care Act, “America’s Bitter Pill,” journalist Steven Brill, cites research showing that overall prescription drug prices are 50 percent higher for comparable products than in other developed countries.

By 2012, more than $280 billion was being spent annually on prescription drugs in the U.S. “If Americans paid what other countries did for the same products, they would save about $94 billion a year,” Brill wrote.

Brill also describes his personal experience with Celebrex, a drug used for arthritis and other muscle and joint pains. Brill found that his insurer paid Pfizer, which makes Celebrex, $50 for each pill. In 2013, he continues, Pfizer “actual incremental cost of producing and shipping its products, before counting expenses for marketing, overhead or research and development, was 18.6 percent, yielding a gross profit margin of 81.4 percent.” In his case, that meant Pfizer was making a profit of $38.40 on each of his $50 pills.

Drug companies typically seek to justify their high charges by, in particular, claiming that they need exorbitant profits to cover their costs for risky research and development of new, more effective drugs.

But an internal National Institutes of Health (NIH) document, the advocacy group Public Citizen reported in 2001, “exposed that taxpayer-funded scientists conducted 55 percent of the research projects that led to the discovery and development of the top five selling drugs in 1995.” [Source:]

As legendary consumer advocate Ralph Nader puts it, “Americans built the drug industry, and the gratitude of the drug companies is to charge them more than in any other countries.” Americans pay the price twice, first in subsidizing the publicly funded research and development and then in paying the highest prices.

And, as Brill noted, when it came to drafting the Affordable Care Act, this 800-pound gorilla looked every bit like an 8-ton gorilla – and got almost everything on its agenda.

Among the big players in the healthcare industry who were in the deal making from the outset, PhRMA, the lobbying arm for the drug giants, was “first to the table,” Brill wrote.

PhRMA was successful in achieving essentially all of its demands, including protecting the 2003 Medicare prescription drug deal which required the government to pay 106 percent of what the drugmakers reported was their ‘average wholesale price,’ which Brill aptly termed “a straitjacket that cost taxpayers $40 billion a year.

PhRMA also succeeded in getting Obama administration support to kill proposed amendments to the ACA that would have allowed consumers to buy drugs from Canada that could produce savings of 30 to 50 percent on medications, Brill noted. Other concessions to the drug kings would follow.

One symptom of the legacy, the aforementioned Sovaldi. A Washington Post blogger, Brill reminds us, speculated that California might have to spend more buying Sovaldi for its Medicaid beneficiaries than it currently does on all K-12 and higher education.”

If some heat on big pharma is beginning to boil now, it is long overdue.

National Nurses Announce Donation to Ebola Health Work in West Africa


National Nurses United today announced a donation of $40,000 to the disaster relief organization International Medical Corps, which is on the front lines of the Ebola response, for its continued efforts to eradicate the deadly virus in West Africa.
“International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Teams have done outstanding work on the ground, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in treating patients, operating treatment centers, and training frontline health workers to combat this virus,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network, which coordinates NNU’s own disaster relief efforts.
Nurses and the general public donated the funds in response to a call last year by RNRN and NNU to escalate the Ebola fight in West Africa. Part of that effort also included a donation RNRN/NNU arranged in September of 1,000 Hazmat special protective suits from Kappler Incorporated, an Alabama-based garment manufacturer, for nurses, doctors, and other health workers working in West Africa.
NNU also devoted substantial efforts to raising protective standards for nurses and other health workers in the U.S.
In addition to its work in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two of the countries that have endured the most devastating effects of Ebola that have made some progress in fighting the epidemic, International Medical Corps has begun stepping up its emergency efforts in Mali and Guinea, where Ebola has been on the upswing.
“We are very grateful to National Nurses United for their generous donation which will go towards purchasing personal protective equipment to support International Medical Corps’ Ebola Treatment Units in West Africa.  These suits are critical to our ability to treat patients, while keeping our doctors and nurses safe,” said Rabih Torbay, Senior Vice President of International Operations for International Medical Corps. “We must work together to combat this deadly disease that, uncontained, might very well become a global catastrophe. Partnerships like this are absolutely vital,” he said.
Castillo noted that the work of International Medical Corps, including the model they have used in protective equipment “has inspired nurses in the U.S., and also contributed to our efforts to insist on the proper equipment for nurses and other health workers who may encounter infected patients in the U.S.”
“We could not be more proud of the work of International Medical Corps in West Africa, or the efforts of nurses here to help fight the spread of this awful epidemic. This work is an example of the vigilance we must have for the growing spread of all deadly epidemics,” Castillo said.
NNU today also reported that the 1,000 Hazmat suits donated by Kappler have been widely distributed mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone by Disaster Relief, a U.S.-based group that arranges disaster relief supplies to humanitarian groups.
“Due to the heightened demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) with the advent of the Ebola crisis, it has been difficult to obtain enough PPE to serve the huge need, and Direct Relief is very thankful that RN Response Network stepped forward and provided the Kappler suits,” said Ashley Cooley, resource acquisition coordinator for Direct Relief. 
“These Kappler suits are included in our Health Facility Kits, which contain enough essential supplies to ensure 100 health facilities can continue to serve their communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia.  These suits are important for the protection of health care workers who encounter suspected Ebola cases, and will help patients and health care workers regain confidence in the health care system so that ongoing, non-Ebola health issues can be addressed,” Cooley said.
RNRN/NNU, Castillo added, “enormously appreciate the contribution made by Kappler and the work of Direct Relief in making sure these suits are assisting in the lifesaving work on the ground in West Africa.”
As of January 20, nearly 22,000 cases of Ebola have been reported with nearly 8,700 deaths, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.


Kaiser RNs OK new pact with overwhelming approval vote

Registered nurses and nurse practitioners who work at 21 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and 65 clinics across Northern and Central California, the largest nurses’ collective bargaining contract in the U.S., have voted to approve a new three-year agreement that provides for substantial improvements in patient care, health and safety protections for nurses, and economic gains.

The pact was overwhelmingly approved in membership meetings held Tuesday through Friday last week from Santa Rosa to Fresno. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents 18,000 Kaiser RNs and NPs, part of an overall membership of 185,000 RNs nationally in NNU, the largest U.S. organization of nurses.

“Kaiser RNs have long been in the forefront of standing up for their patients and themselves setting a benchmark that others have followed,” noted CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro. “The new pact could not have been realized without the unified determination of Kaiser nurses, to assuring the highest level of quality care for patients as well as protections for the nurses who deliver that care.”

“This contract will set the national standards for all other hospitals to achieve patient protections and solidify the future of the nursing profession,” said Zenei Cortez, RN, chair of the Kaiser RN bargaining team and a co-president of CNA.

“We look forward to a new chapter in our interactions with Kaiser,” DeMoro added. “We especially appreciate the commitment of Kaiser’s leadership to working to address our concerns, including working through the complicated problems associated with the changes in health care delivery, some of them related to the Affordable Care Act, and the attention it has paid in this contract to the health and safety of its registered nurses as well as patients.” 

“This contract continues the CNA tradition of providing an atmosphere where patients come first and nurses’ futures are protected,” said Kaiser Modesto RN Amy Glass.

“I’m proud to be part of an organization that has fought for and won patient and nurse protections,” said Cyndi Krahne, a Kaiser Santa Rosa RN.

Major components of the agreement include:

  • The addition of 540 RN positions which RNs say should substantially improve the quality of care for hospitalized patients, as well as signaling a renewed commitment to RN training and employment opportunities for new RN graduates at a time many hospitals have frozen RN hires.
  • Groundbreaking health and safety provisions, including a new accidental death and dismemberment benefit for RNs in recognition harmed by workplace violence and other workplace protections for RNs exposed to infectious diseases like Ebola and needle stick injuries. 
  • Substantial economic gains for RNs and NPs, many of them the sole source of income for their families or extended families. Over the three years of the agreement, all the nurses will receive 14 percent pay increases through across the board hikes and lump sum payments, including a 5 percent increase retroactive to January 1, 2015.
  • Additional long-term retirement security for Kaiser RNs and NPs through maintenance of a secure defined benefit pension plan plus a significant increase in employer contributions to the nurses’ 401k pension plans for the 87 percent of Kaiser RNs with those plans.
  • A new committee of direct care RNs and NPs who will work with management to address the concerns RNs have about care standards in Kaiser facilities, plus expansion of the existing quality liaison program of RNs and NPs who work on patient care issues.
  • Annual paid release time, the first in the nation, for 25 RNs every year to participate in NNU’s disaster relief program, the Registered Nurse Response Network, which has dispatched hundreds of RNs to provide basic medical services following U.S. and global disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the Haiti earthquake to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. 

CNA said it also committed to helping National Union of Healthcare Worker Kaiser workers, including mental health clinicians, achieve a contract agreement as well.

Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street Needed for Broad Economic Reform

National Nurses United today welcomed President Obama’s call to reduce income inequality in the U.S. through new taxes on financial institutions and the wealthiest Americans as a “fresh start,” but called on the White House and Congress to go farther and adopt a robust tax on Wall Street speculation to raise the “real revenue needed to repair the U.S. economy and meet the human needs still neglected by the Wall Street-created economic crash.

NNU also reiterated its strong endorsement of the President’s community college initiative as a “big step forward to expand and improve nursing education opportunities for an entire new generation of registered nurses” and praised his proposals for expanded child care, paid sick and maternity leave, and an increase in the minimum wage. “Congress has an opportunity to move beyond rhetoric to these common sense proposals that would help all working people,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.

On tax policy, DeMoro said President Obama’s State of the Union proposals to set a fee on the liabilities of the largest financial institutions is a “good step in the right direction and welcomed the call for raising the capital gains and dividend tax rates.

“Those who have reaped the benefits of the wholesale shift in wealth from working people to the 1 percent as a result of decades of misguided national priorities should contribute far more to the revitalization of our nation,” said DeMoro.

But the primary obligation, she said, “should fall on the banks, investment firms, and other Wall Street speculators whose reckless gambling with people’s homes and retirement savings ruined so many families and communities.

The best step for tax justice and economic equity, DeMoro said, is a tax on Wall Street speculation. NNU, along with some 150 organizations across the U.S., supports a Robin Hood tax, as embodied in the Inclusive Prosperity Act, introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison, which through a small fee on trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives would raise up to $300 billion every year.

“That’s revenue that would transform our nation overnight, with real support for living wage jobs, fighting the ravages of the climate crisis, eradicating HIV/AIDS and student debt, and fulfilling the dream of quality healthcare for all,” DeMoro said.

“Even with the economic improvements of recent months, there continues to be too many households affected by the 2008 crash created by Wall Street,” said DeMoro.  “Nurses continue to see the effects every day with families who have to choose between paying for needed care or other basic necessities for their families.”

“If a barber can pay a small tax for a loaf of bread or a pair of shoes, “ DeMoro said, “surely a banker can pay a barely noticeable tax on a Wall Street bet.”

“We urge both the White House and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill to deepen their efforts to create a more just economy and tax code, that will ultimately help rebuild an economy and a country that works for all Americans.”