California health care workers push for better conditions

World Today

While health care workers have been putting in extra hours to battle COVID-19, many have also been fighting another battle. They’ve frequently butted heads with the hospital administrations they work under, and as a result have relied on the power of the union more than ever. Reporter Mark Niu has the details.

California needs “thousands and thousands” more health care workers to treat the incoming wave of coronavirus patients, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. To meet that need, he signed an executive order that gives state officials power to let medical professionals do a wider range of work and allow nurses to oversee more patients at a time.

While it was intended to allow health care workers flexibility in caring for more patients, California nurse Nerissa Black says she and her colleagues were overloaded with 50 percent more patients.

Over the last year, the National Nurses United union has held more than 2,000 actions, including rallies, caravans and even memorials.

Nearly 3,000 U.S. healthcare workers have died from COVID-19, including 340 nurses.

That’s added urgency to another healthcare union demand — proper PPE, personal protective equipment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, around 13 percent of U.S. workers belong to a collective bargaining unit. For nurses, it’s significantly higher at more than 20 percent.

Charles Binkley, a bio-ethicist at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, says an already tense relationship between hospitals and unions has further deteriorated during the pandemic.

He says much work needs to be done by the hospitals to improve morale among health care workers.

Union nurses say they’re fight must continue because by better protecting themselves, they’re also better protecting their patients and the community.