What Nurses Really Want

When Nurses Week rolls around each May, our employers predictably trot out the pizza parties, free lunch totes, and all manner of cutesy promotions and prizes to show how much they “appreciate” and “value” us registered nurses.

But National Nurses United RNs are not so easily fooled, nor bought off. Our nurse members, and the activist nurses we are allied with around the world through Global Nurses United (GNU), always use Nurses Week as an opportunity to remind the public about what nurses really want and what we stand for as patient advocates.

We don’t want doughnuts and free pens; we want safe staffing ratios so that we can actually care for our patients the way they deserve, workplaces without violence, and lift teams and equipment to save our backs. We stand for a just healthcare system for all that eliminates the profit motive from providing people with what we consider a human right, so we oppose privatization of services and the starvation of public health services and the public sector. We know a healthy planet means healthier people, so we stand for a world not reliant on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels.

“We have a slogan in NNU, ‘Save one life, you’re a hero. Save 100 lives, you’re an RN,’” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of NNU. “Yet too many hospitals treat this as a moment to give nurses balloons or candy while seeking to drive down patient protections and nurses’ livelihoods every other day of the year. Let’s honor nurses every day by once again treating hospital care as a caring, public service, not just another Wall Street-type institution.”

Leading nurse and healthcare union organizations in 11 countries across the globe held coordinated actions that week to highlight global efforts to improve patient care protections, oppose cuts in healthcare services, and stop the erosion of nurses’ workplace and living standards that are under attack in many countries.

In the United States, NNU held rallies in Washington, D.C. on May 12 to urge passage of mandatory, minimum nurse-to-patient ratio legislation and to call on the federal Veterans Administration to stop the bullying of registered nurses. Nurses also lobbied Congress in support of legislation to mandate minimum nurse-to-patient ratios across the country and for full collective bargaining rights for nurses employed at the Veterans Administration. California and Minnesota nurses used Nurses Week as a chance to lobby legislators in support of various bills to protect patients.

“We are here today to celebrate international nurses’ day.But more importantly, we’re here to take action as nurses to make our values as nurses a reality—values of caring, compassion, and community,” said Touko Leuga, a registered nurse in the medical/surgical unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the largest hospital in the District of Columbia.“It’s time for the DC Council to step up by moving forward on the Patient Protection Act. The health of our patients depends on it.”

Australian nurses, through the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association and the Queensland Nurses Union, pushed for safe staffing ratios in their country through demonstrations and other public events. The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions launched its federal election campaign May 12 with the slogan “Vote care, not cuts” to defend and shore up the country’s Medicare system. In Europe, the Greek healthcare workers union PASONOP also called for safe RN-to-patient staffing ratios to address dangerous understaffing in Greek hospitals and for better funding of the Greek healthcare system. In Ireland, the Irish Midwives and Nurses Organisation held a press conference calling on the government to restore nurses’ pay and working conditions that have been cut due to austerity measures that have defunded the healthcare system.

the healthcare system. Throughout the Caribbean and South America, registered nurses held many different actions. In Brazil, RNs met with legislators to lobby for a 30-hour workweek and held other events honoring nurses. In the Dominican Republic, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Enfermeria visited the Dominican Congress to demand that it approve a salary increase for all public and private employees, including nurses. On May 12, multiple nurses unions held a vigil outside the National Palace to demand President Danilo Medina comply with the agreements signed since October 2013, in which health insurance is guaranteed to pensioners, transportation among others.In Paraguay, the Asociación Paraguaya deEnfermeríaheld a mass mobilization in front of the Ministry of Public Health in Asuncion on May 8 to defend the law that respects nurses’ rights and professional practice.

In the Philippines, the Alliance of Health Workers held protest actions May 7 calling for a national minimum wage, decent jobs, and a ban on contract labor.And on May 11, the union demonstrated before the House of Representatives with demands for decent jobs for nurses, better pay, and working conditions. In Taiwan, RNs joined other labor unions and marched for improved working conditions, including less overtime and better pay. ns, including less overtime and better pay.

“This great series of actions represents the dedication of nurses and other healthcare workers worldwide uniting to protect patients and the health of our nations,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of NNU.

Fast Track Bill Moves On to Senate, Along with Fight to Stop It.

Dear members and supporters:

We cannot thank you enough for continuing to hold your ground. The past months have seen nurses, union members, working families, environmentalists—a very broad coalition of Americans—stand together against Fast Track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We proved the power of our united voice by stalling Fast Track last week.

In the latest update, today the House of Representatives sold out to multinational corporate interests by using a series of slick maneuvers to pass Fast Track. The bill moves on to the Senate now—and so does the fight to stop it.

Want to see how your House rep voted today? Click here.

Contact your Senator to continue saying ‘No’ on Fast Track

Americans will look back on this moment—when medication costs, environmental and food safety regulations, and workers’ jobs were on the line—and remember who was fighting for public health. Thank you for standing up for millions of Americans. We will continue to keep you posted, as this risky trade agreement moves on the Senate—and we attempt at every juncture, to stop it for good.

With Help of RNs, Lift Up El Paso Sees Passage of Wage Theft Ordinance

A commitment to community health can extend far beyond the hospital walls. Just ask El Paso TX-NNOC RNs.

Working with Lift Up El Paso, an alliance of labor, community and faith-based groups, the El Paso nurses have been fighting for a wage theft ordinance, demanding fair pay for city workers. On Wednesday, there was reason to celebrate, as it was unanimously passed by the El Paso City Council.

“A Wage Theft Ordinance that is effective and enforceable means that El Paso workers will now better be able to collect wages that had been denied to them by their employer,” says Sylvia Searfoss, RN, who noted that—as El Paso is one of only two cities in the country to pass such an ordinance—Wednesday’s vote was a landmark moment where “history was made.”

Wage theft has been a serious issue in El Paso, where—according to a 2011 wage theft report conducted by Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project—20 percent of low-wage workers receive less than minimum wage, 67 percent of low-wage employees who should receive overtime pay do not, and 12.5 percent of low-wage workers are victims of wage theft. Women were also found to suffer more wage violations than men, with over 27 percent of surveyed women paid below minimum wage compared to 14 percent of men.

The current wage theft ordinance seeks to address these statistics by allowing the city to refuse or pull contracts with businesses that break the ordinance. A pending amendment to the ordinance—fought for by Lift Up El Paso—also seeks to allow the city to pull licenses and permits for offending businesses. The current ordinance benefits city contracted workers; the amendment would cover most workers in the city.

Lift Up El Paso representatives say they expect the amendment to pass sometime in the next 60 days, although they will also keep pressure on city council to ensure its passage, as businesses potentially mobilize against it.

Meanwhile, El Paso RNs say they are happy the city has voted in favor of fair wages for workers—and also grateful for the connections they’ve made with local unions and social justice organizations, throughout the fight. Lift Up El Pasto coalition allies have even come out to support nurses in their bargaining.

“I think the passage of this ordinance sends a message to the business community that workers are standing together for justice,” Searfoss says.

Massachusetts study shows RNs are overloaded

Too many patients harmed or dead due to understaffing

In conjunction with the beginning of National Nurses Week, a new study of registered nursed in Massachusetts released May 6 by the MassachusettsNurses Association establishes that hospital administrators are assigning too many patients to registered nurses, resulting in significant harm and even death for patients. According to the survey, more than eight in 10 registered nurses report that the quality of patient care in Massachusetts hospitals is suffering because hospital administrators are requiring nurses to care for too many patients at once, and six in 10 RNs report that staffing decisions are driven by administrators’ desire for increased profits, with devastating results for their patients:

Some report highlights include:

  • Alarmingly, one in four nurses (25 percent) report patient deaths directly attributable to having too many patients to care for at one time and the same number report they wouldn’t feel safe admitting their own family member to the unit on which they work
  • 50 percent report injury and harm to patients due to understaffing
  • 56 percent report readmission of patients due to unsafe patient assignments
  • 61 percent report medication errors due to unsafe patient assignments
  • 61 percent report complications for patients due to unsafe patient assignments
  • 81 percent report RNs don’t have the time to educate patients and provide adequate discharge planning
  • 86 percent report RNs don’t have the time to properly comfort and care for patients and families due to unsafe patient assignments

The release of this state-wide data on the impact of unsafe patient assignments for nurses on patient mortality follows a similar report in 2014, with this year’s results showing an increase in the rate of negative patient outcomes and a continued deterioration in the quality and safety of patient care in Massachusetts hospitals, particularly in the state’s community hospitals.

“These findings provide an indictment of our system of hospital care in Massachusetts and shine the light on the really dangerous situation for our patients who are being forced to share their nurse with too many other patients at one time, which is resulting in more of them suffering totally preventable complications, medical errors, costly readmissions and, yes, even death for lack of proper care, attention and monitoring from registered nurses,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and a staff nurse on the maternity unit at Cambridge Health Alliance. “As the nation and many employers look to National Nurses Week to recognize the contributions of its nurses, in releasing these findings we nurses are pushing our own call button for help, in this case from the Legislature who has the opportunity to address this crisis by passing legislation to ensure safe patient assignments for nurses and ensure quality patient care.”

Earlier this year, 85 Massachusetts legislators joined lead sponsors Sen. Marc Pacheco and state Rep. Denise Garlick as cosponsors to the Patient Safety Act, legislation filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association that will dramatically improve patient safety by establishing a maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, while also requiring hospitals to adjust nurses’ patient assignments based on the specific needs of the patients.

This new survey ofMassachusetts nurses was commissioned by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and conducted between April 10 and 16 by Anderson Robbins Research, an independent research firm headquartered in Boston. The 2015 survey respondents were all nurses currently working in Massachusetts randomly selected from a complete file of the 92,000 nurses registered with the Massachusetts Board ofRegistration in Nursing. Fully 61 percent of the respondents have no affiliation with the MNA.

Fresno RNs, Community Members Hold Sit In at Offices of Rep. Costa

Fighting to Stop Fast Track/TPP, RNs call on all Nurses, Supporters to Rise Up

Staff members expecting a quiet morning at Rep. Jim Costa’s Fresno office—underestimated what can happen when Congress members vote to endanger public health, with a trade deal that could balloon medication costs, overturn nurse-to-patient ratios, and destroy the environment.

Cue the nurses.

“I came out today because it’s important to get Costa to reverse his ‘yes’ vote on aspects of a trade agreement which would cause the public to pay more for medications and let corporations overturn laws, like nurse-to-patient ratios, if they were seen as barriers to profit,” says Susan Burr, RN, of Kaiser Fresno. Burr, along with other National Nurses United members and community organizations, joined a sit-in at Rep. Costa’s office Tuesday morning to hold Costa accountable.

Last week, Rep. Costa voted yes on two sections of a three-part bill that would allow “Fast Track” approval for the risky Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). One section was struck down, stalling the entire “Fast Track” bill. A re-vote, initially slated for today, was just put off as late as July 30—largely because unions and community groups ensured Fast Track supporters weren’t able to turn enough votes that quickly. RNs say between now and July, they will continue fighting for all reps to vote on the right side of public health.

Nurses will be launching a billboard campaign, in addition to continuing to visit and call representatives across the country to ensure they don’t harm our patients, working families or communities. 

“Rep. Costa’s recent vote would pave the way for extending the amount of time pharmaceutical companies have before a drug could go generic. As a healthcare provider, I know firsthand that would lead to people with diseases that could’ve been prevented or controlled—like diabetes or hypertension,” says Burr. “If they couldn’t afford medication, you’d be seeing more patients coming in to the hospital, sick.”

At today’s sit-in, RNs and community groups turned up the heat on Rep. Costa to reverse his position. According to nurses, his staff responded in kind, literally—by shutting off the air conditioning. While trying to sweat out the nurses and community groups, Costa’s staff also refused the bathroom key and eventually called an officer from the Department of Homeland Security (who allowed the sit in to continue). The RNs stayed throughout the morning, speaking to media and also monitoring members of local community groups who were on a hunger strike.

“I want people to know that nurses care about our patients—and our future patients.  We care about the public and their healthcare,” says Burr, adding that she expects elected leaders to do the same. “I’d like for Rep. Costa to listen to what the people want—not what’s good for big business but what is good for the people.”

When elected leaders don’t listen to public health concerns, as NNU members are proving in Fresno and across the country, they will have to answer to the most trusted profession in America: The nurses.


The Fresno RNs held their ground today, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership will impact all patients—and the entire public at-large.

The voice of nurses is absolutely critical—from this moment, through to the end of July vote. We MUST hold our ground to ensure corporations cannot Fast Track the TPP, thereby inflating medication costs and steamrolling laws we fought so hard to enact, like nurse-to-patient ratios in California.

Please contact Congress (repeatedly, with the tenacity and care they can expect from RNs) and say “Stop Fast Track, Stop TPP!”

RNs Report Back From Sea on the Continuing Promise Mission to 11 Countries with U.S. Service Members

Extra socks, 4 a.m. wake-up calls, and plenty of opportunities to provide care; these are just a few of the elements that make up a day for nurse volunteers with Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) serving aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). RNRN is a disaster relief project of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Foundation.

It is now two months into the Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15) mission, on which the nurses have joined joint military personnel and health care professionals, engineers, veterinarians and environmental health experts for a humanitarian assistance mission that includes mission stops in 11 countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. CP-15 is a U.S. Southern Command sponsored mission, under the operational control of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/ U.S. 4th Fleet.

The CP-15 crew has over 1000 members from various Navy commands but also additional support from the Army, Air Force and Non-Governmental Organizations. The mission was initially launched in 2007; this year expands on previous CP deployments, building on relationships created in previous years. Participants, including RNRN volunteers, will work together to increase the capacities of countries and communities to provide for themselves, making each visit a subject matter expert exchange.

RNRN volunteers treat patients aboard Comfort in a pre-op or post-anesthesia care unit setting and also work in clinics set-up ashore in each country. The clinics are sometimes set up in gymnasiums, and volunteers work in high heat conditions and physically demanding environments. The clinic sites are cordoned off into separate areas for dental, optometry, physical therapy, women’s health, general medicine, and pediatrics. RNRN nurses typically work in the waiting areas, gathering vital signs, weighing children or working with an interpreter at triage sites set-up outside the buildings, often times covered by tents for shade from the hot sun.

“Today, I’m on shore to help run a general clinic that will see several hundred patients,” RNRN volunteer Tim Launius said from Belize. “There were over a hundred people waiting before we got here today.”

Launius later described a similar scene in Guatemala, where they saw 600 patients a day at two clinic sites. “The patients began lining-up around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. each day, at both clinics. When we arrived, the line had extended around the block on which the building is located.” 

“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to help someone and to see them walk away knowing they are in a better position,” said Amy Bowen, an emergency room nurse from Ozark, Mo. “It’s such a rewarding trip. The [patients] show so much appreciation. I just want to help as much as I can.”

At a recent stop in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, RNRN nurses were part of a team of military and nongovernmental organization medical volunteers who worked alongside partner nation medical personnel to provide no-cost medical and dental services to Nicaraguan citizens. Cathy Kennedy, a registered nurse with RNRN, described the trip as rewarding in an email update about their work around the Nicaragua stop.

“Everyone going to the medical site will be transported via helicopter out there,” Kennedy wrote. “There is a strict ‘muster’ time of 4 a.m.  We have to be prepared to potentially spend the night, so we have to bring a shirt, flashlight, feet spray, hat, socks – all in a small backpack. The nurses are fabulous and tough as needles! We all jump right in and help out.”

Comfort departed Norfolk, Va., in April and is scheduled to return in September. During that time, groups of volunteers along with the joint-military team of personnel will perform hundreds of surgical procedures at no cost, treat thousands of patients, reinforce local infrastructure, and provide veterinary services in Belize, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominica and Honduras. Their goals include improving living conditions in host countries, as well as strengthening U.S. relationships with partner nations. A multinational planning staff surveyed doctors, nurses, dentists and other local professionals in the host nations to develop a set of priorities on the ground.

RNRN, a project of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of RNs, was formed in 2004 in the aftermath of the South Asia tsunami, when the need for nurses was not being met by traditional disaster relief organizations. Since that time, RNRN has sent direct-care nurse volunteers to assist following Hurricane Katrina, the massive earthquake in Haiti, and Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, among other deployments. RNRN previously participated in the Continuing Promise mission in 2010.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to support the RNRN disaster relief fund, go to http://nationalnursesunited.org/rnrn-disaster-relief-fund

Fast Track/TPP Stalled Today. We Must Kill it for Good!

To protect the public health, please call Congress NOW  

Nurses and supporters have never had a more critical time to hold our ground! In an important vote, Fast Track authority was stalled on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives today. But the corporate opponents of public health are pushing for a reconsideration either on Monday or Tuesday. We must act this weekend to stop Fast Track for good—as it could pave the way for corporations to overturn nurse-to-patient ratios, for medication costs to skyrocket, and other public health threats.

“Today Congress did right by the American people, protecting jobs, public health, the environment and our very democracy against a secret trade deal that would complete the corporate take over of our country,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro. “Unfortunately this vote was only a temporary stay of execution for our economy and a second vote will be held next week.”

That’s why nurses across the country need to redouble their efforts this weekend to make sure that every member of Congress hears directly from a Registered Nurse to hold the line and vote No on this disastrous trade deal.

Ways you can help:

Call your Congressmember – Tell him/her to vote “No” on reconsideration and “No” on moving Fast Track forward. If you get voicemail, leave a message!

Click here to call

Click here to email

Here’s what you need to know: The House voted Friday on a three-part bill that would enable the dangerous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be “Fast Tracked” through Congress. The three-part “Fast Track” bill was stopped when one major provision—Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)—was voted down. The clear “No” vote on TAA should have imperiled the entire package.

However, there will be a motion to reconsider TAA early next week.  If the vote on TAA is reversed, Fast Track will become law. We must keep pressure on Congress NOW. For the health of the public and planet—please contact your representative today and say, “No reconsideration, no to moving Fast Track forward!” Let’s make this win official! Tell Congress “No Reconsideration, No Fast Track”! 

Thank you,

Jean Ross, RN       Karen Higgins, RN       Deborah Burger, RN
National Nurses United
Council of Presidents

Securing Retirement Security

NNU Executive Director

RoseAnn DeMoro

In the waning moments of the last Congress–and yet another battle over how much to slash federal programs that help people under the threat of another government shutdown–2014 omnibus budget bill that could have a devastating impact on countless retirees.

Called the multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, the law, which passed without debate or public hearings, permits significant reductions in multiemployer pension plans, which are generally defined benefit plans negotiated in collective bargaining agreements between unions and two or more employers.

The bill is just the latest window into an insidious broader agenda: the assault on all retirement programs, from Social Security to employer-sponsored pension plans, that threaten to mire millions of people in poverty in their post-work years.

Language in the misnamed “Reform” Act came from recommendations by the National Coordinating Committee for multiemployer Plans, a third of whose working group comprises executives linked to the insurance industry and Wall Street. Their goal is to end all employer contributions to all workers’ pensions.

Current financial struggles faced by multiemployer pension plans, like 401(k) plans and other retirement programs, may be directly linked to those who want to cut them, especially the Wall Street bankers and other wolves who created the economic crash of 2008, prompted in large part by casino style gambling with workers’ pensions.

The result is an escalating crisis for all working people, including RNs, who have counted on pensions to supplement meager Social Security payments, earning pension benefits often at the expense of pay increases or other economic improvements to be able to look forward to being able to retire in dignity.

RNs in the private sector, even those who work for wealthy private employers, have seen repeated demands to slice their pension benefits.

Nowhere is the attack on worker pensions greater than in the public sector. Calls to slash public pensions have become standard rhetoric for governors, state legislators, mayors, and other elected officials of both major parties.

The Wall Street raid on worker-earned pensions cannot be separated from the steady offensive against Social Security, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, and is one of the most important reforms in U.S. history, along with its partner Medicare, whose 50th anniversary also arrives this summer.

Both reforms share a common impetus, helping to stave off crushing poverty for Americans in their retirement years. But Medicare would not exist without the path blazed by Social Security, an act that brought hope, and lifesaving support, for millions of older Americans at the height of the Great Depression in 1935.

Upon the law’s passage, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in U.S. history and the public official who shepherded the law to life, noted it was reflective of“progress the American people have made in the social field and awareness of methods of using cooperation through government to overcome social hazards against which the individual alone is inadequate.”

Social Security is especially critical for women who tend to live longer than men, are paid less during their working life, spent more years out of the workforce than men raising families, typically have less savings than men, and are less likely to have worked in jobs that provided pensions.

Wall Street speculators, anxious to privatize Social Security, big employers, and the anti-government crowd have never ceased efforts to erode and ultimately destroy Social Security. The result is continual efforts to reduce Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age, and cut the program.

Their attack is premised on fabricating a crisis in the Social Security trust fund as a pretext to push their dreams of budget cuts and privatization, even though the trust funds at their current level are fully secure until 2033, and able to be maintained at three fourths of scheduled benefits for years after.

The campaign is given voice by a PR effort to discredit the labor of tens of millions of Americans, whose toil created the trust fund, by labelling Social Security as an “entitlement” not worthy of protection.

NNU has long made winning and defending pensions for RNs a top priority, and we have joined with other labor, seniors, and consumer advocates to stand up to the attacks on Social Security. That fight continues today.

Steps to protect Social Security are well known, particularly raising the cap on payroll taxes so that the wealthiest Americans pay more into the system.

A new welcome development is a growing push by progressive politicians, first initiated by Sen. Bernie Sanders and now joined by others, such as Sen. Sherrod Brown, to actually expand Social Security with long-needed cost-of-living increases and other updates, rather than just resisting the constant attacks. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which does great work on the issue, has delivered to Congress petitions from millions of Americans who oppose any cuts and want a benefit boost.

Another solution is to pass the Robin Hood Tax on the avaricious Wall Street speculators who are so anxious to gobble up our pensions. H.R. 1464 would set a small tax on transactions of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, raising hundreds of billions of dollars every year for critical needs, from jobs to healthcare to eradicating student debt, and retirement security.

In the final years of her life, Frances Perkins was able to look back on her signature accomplishment. “One thing I know,” she said in 1962, “Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”

It’s up to all of us to make that so.