NEW YORK NURSE: May 2011
by Mark Genovese
There is now active legislation threatening the union rights and protections of public sector employees in 40 states. If these efforts are successful, the next target will be the private sector, according to labor leaders from two of the states that have been at the forefront of the resistance.
The two labor leaders spoke of their experiences to the NYSNA Congress of Bargaining Unit Leaders, during its April 11 meeting in the Latham conference center.
Tracy Suprise, long-time nurse labor leader and staff nurse at the University of Wisconsin Medical Center, described how labor organizations in Wisconsin and throughout the nation quickly mobilized opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” this February and March, moving into the Wisconsin state capitol building, staging large rallies twice each day and recruiting support from many sectors of society. She noted that the legislation included several other provisions that expanded the governor’s influence, eroded citizens’ rights, weakened environmental protection, and severely cut funding for social and healthcare programs.
“You could sense the solidarity,” said Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer of labor relations for the Ohio Nurses Association. “It was a powerful example of people from different walks of life, in different occupations, standing together.” The Ohio legislation is very destructive, doing away with union rights all together.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich admitted during his campaign that he wanted to “break the back of the unions,” and is seeking provisions to expand privatization and eliminate prevailing wage scales. The rationalization from supporters of the legislation is that public employers need “flexibility.”
Although the two bills have been signed into law, they are expected to face several legal challenges.
As this edition went to press, NYSNA was planning a “Day of Solidarity” during Nurses Week, in which members from around the state would be invited to stand up for their workplace rights. With NYSNA’s encouragement, each local bargaining unit is coordinating its own rally, informational picket or other collective action.
New York civil rights attorney Yetta G. Kurland, a participant in the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, discussed the struggle to save St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan from closing at this time last year. She also talked about the efforts since then to seek accountability from the corporate, government, and judicial leaders who allowed the closing to happen; how the closing violated federal and state laws; and the campaign to locate a new full-service facility at the St. Vincent’s site that meets the community’s needs. Kurland warned that the freestanding emergency room proposed for the site would set a dangerous precedent in that it would not be as regulated as a standard healthcare facility, would not be equipped to handle severe cases, and would not be friendly to labor unions.
In her welcome address, NYSNA Congress President Susan Casadone discussed her goal of developing an outreach program in which Congress leaders could meet with executive committees at LBUs in their facilities. She said her vision for the Congress “is one in which we bring the leaders of the Congress out to visit with our bargaining units. One in which we make that personal connection.”
NYSNA CEO Tina Gerardi challenged the Congress and Delegate Assembly to show their relevancy to the members they represent by focusing their energy on outcome rather than process. She encouraged the groups to develop and continue strategic planning; look for opportunities to educate, assist, and mobilize members; and raise their profile in the labor movement by issuing position statements on collective bargaining issues. “We can only move forward if we move together,” Gerardi said.