After six months of bargaining with the Long Beach Medical Center and the Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital, nurses and union organizers took to the streets June 24 in an awareness-raising picket to make clear their needs as workers and advocate for the communities they represent. Mary, a nurse of 28 years who retired five years ago, explained: “What the public really needs to know is that the nurses stand for the community. Their goal is the best patient care we can get.” Chants and signs on the picket lines declared that hospital policies are deliberately putting patients and nurses in danger in the rush for easy profits.
“The hospital is trying to get as much out of them, with as little resources as possible,” said Ariana, a representative from the California Nurses’ Association. She went on to point out how a commonly used practice known as “split halls” — making nurses work across two hallways concurrently — stretches nurses too thin, putting them and patients in danger in order to cut costs. Sufficient nurse-to-patient ratios are critical to safely and effectively caring for patients.
Pediatric nurse Alecia Bennett told Liberation News, “If nurses are down two hallways, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on.” If a nurse’s list of duties draws them away from vulnerable patients and they aren’t able to provide adequate attention, or when an unsupervised patient might endanger themselves or others, a lack of available nurses only worsens the situation. “When workers are strained and stretched thin for profit, they and the community that depends on them suffer.”
When nurses are given assignments that put the hospital’s safety at risk, they can fill out an Assignment Despite Objection form. However, in a striking display of the scale of unsafe assignments, the picketers unfurled banners stretching down the block made of filled-out, and unanswered, ADOs. By not providing enough staffing to safely cover all units, the hospital profits while overworking the nurses, both in terms of the physical distance between each patient and the excess of assignments outside nurses’ areas of expertise. Mary explained that nurses have been divided between specialty units without the proper experience, and without the necessary training to work safely and effectively.
The nurses also spoke out against forced arbitration. With forced arbitration in their contract, nurses would not be allowed to sue the hospital if the need arose. In the case of issues like unpaid wages or workplace violence, the nurses would be forced to engage in arbitration on the hospital’s terms rather than take independent legal action. With the unsafe assignments nurses are so often given, this would prevent the hospital from being held accountable by outside judges.
Community members also joined the picket to speak and support the nurses. A representative from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union declared in solidarity, “We will do everything we can to stand by you!” Pointing out the critical role nurses play, Chloe Osmer from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said: “When we’re at our most vulnerable, it is nurses who heal us — it is nurses who help us. The bare minimum we can do is ensure they have safe and dignified working conditions, that they have fair wages, and that they have respect on the job!”