by Sean Petty and CarolLynn Esposito
We work in an industry that gets hit hard when the economy goes bad.
In 2008, when the current crisis began, Wall Street banks, mortgage, and insurance companies and other large corporations received trillions in government bailout money, while the lives of many poor and working families were devastated.
As nurses, we see the impact first hand – full emergency rooms, delayed treatment, and sicker patients. Some of our colleagues were hit too, facing foreclosure on their homes.
These inequities have existed in our society a long time, and the slogan of the Occupy movement – “We are the 99%” – captured the popular imagination because it proclaims the reality of the many of us struggling to make ends meet, while the wealthiest 1% have privileged, extravagant lives.
As billionaire Warren Buffett reminds us, America's tax system favors the wealthy top, while the rest of us face a higher tax rate – despite making millions less in income. He pays taxes at a 15% rate, while his secretary pays at 30%, like most of us.
The Occupy movement has played an important role in our national dialogue about inequality – and because of it, the gap between the rich and poor can no longer be ignored. We see hundreds of thousands of working Americans joining their first political gatherings through this new movement.
And political leaders, who once downplayed or ignored these issues, are now scrambling to catch up.
Members of NYSNA and many other unions have joined these protests. We, as nurses, have a very important role to play so the fight against inequality in health care will remain an important piece of this new social justice movement.
We know from our everyday working lives that health and illness follow social status: the lower the socioeconomic position, the worse the health, and the greater the illness. Inequitable income distribution across the population downgrades the overall health of a society.
We also know that other factors affect health: working conditions, job security, income, and stress from all of the above. These factors contribute to the physical and psychological illnesses of our patients.
Our colleagues face many of the same pressures: understaffing, benefit reductions, tougher working conditions, and having to stretch our paychecks from week-to-week.
When our patients need more resources, when our hospitals need more nurses, when working people need better schools, education, job security, and retirement, we are told that there’s not enough money. Supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement declare that the money is out there – it’s just in the wrong hands, and we must build a movement to have that money distributed more fairly.
For all these reasons, we have to raise our voices as NYSNA members, as nurses, as patient advocates and as people who want a healthier America. Because we share a common concern, we have to focus on a right to good health, not just the right to health care. We have to advocate for changes against those factors that detract from our well-being as a society.
We want social justice, to address those factors that create health inequality and, instead, create conditions that enable all individuals to lead healthy lives. We want changes that allow individuals the access to economic and social opportunities and resources so we can have healthier people in a healthier society.
How can we accomplish this? Tax the wealthy 1% in a fairer and more consistent basis. Provide universal healthcare coverage. Address homelessness. Build community health centers and allow nurses to practice independently within these communities. Break down the power structures that marginalize too many Americans.
Let nurses, our nation’s most respected profession, deliver this message: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Economic justice – and the good health that comes with it – is the right of every human being. We think that is the right message for us as nurses and union members.
Sean Petty is vice president of NYSNA’s Delegate Assembly. CarolLynn Esposito is NYSNA’s labor education coordinator.
The New York State Nurses Association is the voice for nursing in the Empire State. With more than 37,000 members, it is New York’s largest professional association and union for registered nurses. The association represents registered nurses, and some all-professional bargaining units, in New York and New Jersey. It supports nurses and nursing practice through education, research, legislative advocacy, and collective bargaining.