From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nurses ready to strike over swine flu safety

By John Wojcik
People's World

“When nurses are exposed to tuberculosis, the hospital notifies us. When nurses are exposed to head lice, the hospital notifies us. Why then are we not told when we are exposed to H1N1? Staff need to know if they have been exposed in order to keep our patients from further unnecessary exposure,” said Carol Koelle, an RN at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, Calif.
“We can’t get enough masks, patients are not being properly isolated, and nurses are not informed of the latest guidelines. Last time I worked it took me more than four hours to get masks when we ran out. If we don’t put the proper precautions in place now before flu season peaks we will be in serious trouble,” said Kathy Dennis, a registered nurse at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento.

These concerns, voiced by nurses this week, follow months of warnings by the nation’s RNs about inadequate swine flu hospital safeguards. In California alone, more than 3,000 people have been hospitalized and over 200 have died, including a nurse infected on the job.
Some 16,000 registered nurses from three large Catholic hospital chains in California and Nevada will do more than just continue their warnings this weekend when they stage a one day strike and picket Oct. 30 to dramatize the lack of readiness by hospitals to confront the swine flu pandemic.

The strike will affect hospitals throughout California from San Bernardino and Long Beach in the south to Eureka and Redding in the north, and include major facilities in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Bakersfield, Stockton and the Central Coast. Nurses will also picket major facilities in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.
Nurses at almost all the hospitals involved agree with Koelle and Dennis that hospitals are doing a poor job at isolating patients with swine flu symptoms and are not taking other steps necessary to limit contagion, including provision of masks and safety gear for workers and patients.
As late as last week the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that it had re-issued guidelines for isolation and safety equipment and had urged hospitals to stop encouraging employees to work when sick, another problem cited by many nurses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed, also last week, that it plans to issue a compliance directive to ensure uniform procedures “to identify and minimize or eliminate high to very high risk occupational exposures” to H1N1.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee issued a statement Oct. 19 urging incorporation of all CDC and OSHA guidelines into its existing contracts with hospitals.

In August CNA/NNOC released the findings of a survey of 190 hospitals in the U.S. where nurses cited major problems with poor segregation of patients, lack of sufficient masks, numerous cases where nurses were infected, inadequate training and punitive sick leave policies. The union says that substantial problems remain all over the country.
Making the swine flu issue even more serious, many nurses say, is the failure of hospitals to assure proper staffing.

“Our hospitals are not adhering to the safe staffing ratios law,” said Allen Fitzpatrick, a nurse who works at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. “Nurses are being harassed by supervisors to accept unsafe assignments and not to take any breaks. Bedside nurses are busy enough trying to provide care to our patients. We need someone to stand up for safe RN-to-patient staffing.”

“We have a comprehensive staffing proposal on the table because no matter how much care a patient requires our hospital won’t add nurses and has eliminated our aides,” said Susan Johnson, an Obstetrics RN at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. “We work 12 hour shifts, often without a break, and are assigned to work outside our area of expertise. We have proposed a break relief nurse on every unit and a safe “floating” policy, all essential patient care protections.”

Additionally, the RN’s are insisting that hospitals stop their efforts to reduce healthcare benefits by shifting more costs to nurses and reducing coverage options. In some cases, hospitals are also demanding a wage freeze.

“As nurses, we see the consequences when employers reduce coverage, it’s disgraceful to see our hospitals taking the same step,” said Debra Amour, a registered nurse at Seton Medical Center in Daly City.

Friday, October 16, 2009

100,000 march for jobs in Puerto Rico

by José A. Cruz
People's World

"Today we declare a State of Peaceful Insurrection of the people of Puerto Rico", declared Juan Vera, Methodist bishop of Puerto Rico, as he called for going from "protests to resistance to civil disobedience" against the neoliberal economic policies of Gov. Luis Fortuño which have resulted in the laying-off of 25,000 public sector employees. Fortuño had announced earlier this year that the number of government workers to be dismissed from their jobs would reach 30,000. Puerto Rico normally suffers from double-digit joblessness during non-recessionary times.

An estimated 100,000 plus marched from seven points in the San Juan metropolitan area to a massive rally at the Plaza de las Américas shopping mall which was chosen as the rally point because it is seen as a symbol of transnational corporations and its culture of consumerism. Hundreds were already at the starting points before the sun was up.

The owners of Plaza de las Américas announced the day before that the mall, the largest in the Caribbean and one of the largest in all of Latin America, would be closed the day of the strike. Strike leaders had threatened to close it down with massive picket lines.

The march was organized by the coalition All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico, composed of labor unions, churches, civic, community and political groups. The protestors consisted of people from all political groupings, even those who voted for Fortuño. When the governor first announced his plans for lay-offs, members and local leaders of his own party, the annexationist New Progressive Party, told the press that even though they worked to get out the vote for him, they would protest his economic decisions.

Roberto Pagán, president of the Puerto Rican Union of Workers, said "today is the end of Luis Fortuño". Another Puerto Rican labor leader, Federico Torres, said he would put the number of people in the march at 200,000.

The most prominent symbol in the march which marked a one-day general strike organized by a coalition of labor, political, religious and civic organizations was the Puerto Rican flag being waved by thousands amidst union banners, and signs by different constituencies.
The mayors of 30 of the 78 municipalities helped organize almost 200 buses to the march.
Among the two biggest union contingents one can see in the march were UTIER, the electrical workers union, and the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers (FMPR). They were joined by other Puerto Rican and US-based unions as well as church groupings, political and civic organizations.

Victor Rodriguez, a member of the FMPR, said he saw the march was a "wave of indignation against [the governor's] attempt at privatization" of state services.
A young woman, interviewed by Radio WKAQ, who worked in providing services to "special needs communities" said the people were there "to stop the current administration's abuse against the country."

Delegations of US union leaders also came to take part in the march said José La Luz, a leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Another US labor leader, Dennis Rivera of SEIU-1199 said the Service Employees International Union was "calling on US workers to express their solidarity with the Puerto Rican workers."

Meanwhile, a contingent of University of Puerto Rico students from the Law School and the School of Urban Planning took over the highway from San Juan to Caguas, sitting down to block all traffic. Students from the medical school soon later joined them. After some time police officials were able to negotiate with students opening one lane in each direction. Police reported that other roads in the metropolitan areas were heavy with traffic due to the protestors having taken up many of the adjacent streets. Journalists have reported that some drivers stuck on the highways have left their cars on the roads and joined the protest.

Religious organizations took part in the activities of the day. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic bishops, clergy and parishioners marched behind banners declaring their commitment to fight for social justice. One of the biggest groups was led by Bishop Rubén González of the Catholic Diocese of Caguas. Behind a banner which declared, "Solidarity is the charity of today" marched 2,000 believers.

Fortuño administration official tried to give the impression that the country and government were not hampered by a "few protestors" but had to admit later on that the impact was much more than that. Reports coming in from different municipalities said that many schools had to close down because large number of students, teachers and even principals didn't show up.
The strike and march was first being planned by the trade union movement starting last spring as the governor announced his economic plans.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hundreds of Thousands of Puerto Rican Workers, Faith Leaders, Students and Citizens in General Strike today

National March Will Protest Massive Cuts in Essential Public Services; Republican Administration Under Investigation for Civil Rights Violations Against High School Students

WASHINGTON - October 14 - As Puerto Rico struggles with a 17 percent unemployment rate, Republican Governor Luis Fortuno is pushing forward with his plan to lay off more than 17,000 state government employees. The Governor has targeted government employees who provide critical public services to children, seniors and the poor. Since the Governor announced the cuts, thousands of workers and citizens have engaged in spontaneous acts of civil disobedience.

Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican workers, faith leaders, students and citizens will unite in Hato Ray to peacefully protest the planned cuts in essential public services. Governor Fortuno has threatened to charge citizens with "terrorism" if they take part in the planned march.

One-Day National Strike and Peaceful Protest

10:00 A.M., Thursday, October 15, 2009

Labor movement and civil society organizations

Plaza Las Americas
Hato Rey, Puerto Rico

EDITOR NOTE: Groups are gathering in seven locations a mile north, east, west and south of the main site. They will march simultaneously to the meeting point beginning at 10:00 a.m. People from other towns will go directly to the main site.

Here are the facts about recent events in Puerto Rico:

* On September 25, the Fortuno administration announced it was cutting the jobs of 17,000 schoolteachers, social workers, healthcare workers and other public employees, effective this November 6.

* These lay offs are in addition to the 7,800 workers who were laid off by Governor Fortuno's administration last spring, bringing the total number to nearly 25,000 state government employees.

* In recent days, thousands of university students, workers, faith leaders and citizens have demonstrated, marched and held vigils in support of the working women and men who provide critical public services. Men and women have been threatened, physically attacked, and falsely arrested in some cases.

* On Friday, October 9, students at a high school in Canovanas, Puerto Rico protested the Governor's visit to a nearby public housing project. The protest ended in violence when police invaded the school, arresting teachers and students. Reports from El Nuevo Dia and other outlets show students being physically attacked and arrested on the spot. At least two students were seriously injured and nine were reportedly arrested.

* On Saturday, October 10, the Puerto Rican Civil Rights Commission announced it would investigate police in Canovanas for their actions.

* Later the same day, the Governor threatened to charge Puerto Rican citizens with "terrorism" if they take part in the national march planned for Thursday, October 15.
Additional information on the devastating effects of cuts to critical safety net services is available.