For Health Care Workers, The Pandemic ‘Is Fueling Renewed Interest’ In Unions
In September, after six months of exhausting work battling the Coronavirus Pandemic, Nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina voted to Unionize.
The vote passed with 70%, a high margin of victory in a historically Anti-Union State, according to academic experts who study Labor Movements.
The Nurses had originally filed paperwork to hold this vote in March, but were forced to delay it when the pandemic began heating up.
And the issues that had driven them toward Unionizing were only heightened by the crisis.
It raised new, urgent problems too, including struggles to get enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and inconsistent testing and notification of exposures to COVID-positive patients.
They're far from alone in their complaints.
For months now, Front Line Health Workers across the country have faced a perpetual lack of PPE and inconsistent safety measures.
Many Workers say employers and government systems that are meant to protect them have failed.
One study found New York Nursing Homes with Unionized Workers had lower COVID-19 mortality rates, as well as better access to PPE and stronger infection control measures, than Non-Union facilities.
Recognizing that, some Workers - like the Nurses at Mission Hospital - are forming new Unions or thinking about organizing for the first time.
Others, who already belong to a Union, are taking more active leadership roles, voting to Strike, launching public information campaigns and filing lawsuits against employers.
"The ‘urgency and desperation we've heard from workers is at a pitch I haven't experienced before in twenty years of this work,’" said Cass Gualvez, who serves as Organizing Director for Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-United Healthcare Workers West (UHWW) in California. "We've talked to Workers who said, 'I was dead set against a Union five years ago, but COVID has changed that.' "
Labor experts say it's too soon to know if the outrage over working conditions will translate into an increase in Union Membership, but early indications suggest a small uptick.
Of the approximately 1,500 petitions for Union Representation posted on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) website in 2020, 16% appear related to the health care field, up from 14% the previous year.
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