Women: Fighting For Nurses and Patients

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The California Nurses Association (CNA) represents 80,000 registered and advance practice nurses at more than 170 public and private facilities in California. After breaking with the management-dominated American Nurses Association in 1996, the CNA turned its full attention, strength and budget toward the concerns of the direct care nurse, organizing the unorganized, bargaining strong contracts and getting politically active.

The CNA has bargained contract language banning mandatory overtime and unsafe floating, increasing wages sometimes more that 25% over the life of the contract and addressing patient care issues. It has bargained master contracts at the not-for profit behemoth Kaiser Permanente, ending two-tier wages and conditions for nurses of the Central Valley and won neutrality agreements with the for-profit pioneer Tenet.

The nurses of the CNA didn’t ask nice or wave their magic nurse wands to win these gains, they organized lots of nurses and used fighting tactics. No union in any state has organized so many nurses in so many health systems, including:14,000 nurses at 70 Kaiser Permanente facilities and 5,000 at 13 Sutter Health hospitals.

There is power in numbers and the CNA knows how to exercise this power effectively. Nurses at 13 Sutter Health hospitals struck for two days in October in support of their bargaining committee’s demands. Hundreds of nurses bargaining a first contract at Fremont-Rideout Health Group struck simultaneously, applying pressure on their employer they never could have generated alone.

The CNA has taken an independent position on the health care industry, siding decisively with patients and rejecting both the employers’ cries of poverty to justify cuts and the insurance companies’ rationale for their very existence. On its Guaranteed Health Care website (www.guaranteedhealthcare.org), you can sign the CheneyCare petition, tell your own insurance company horror story, buy a DVD of Sicko and sign up to receive “action alerts”.

The CNA’s legislative victories are unmatched: statewide nurse to patient ratios (then fending off Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempt to repeal ratios), whistle blower protection for health care workers exposing unsafe conditions and funding for nursing education. They are currently working on universal health care legislation (SB 840 and SB 1014) which would establish and pay for a Medicare type plan for all Californians.

Through its National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), the CNA reaches beyond the limits of state borders to organize unorganized nurses like the 500 RN’s at St. Mary’s in Reno, NV who voted by a 64% margin to join in December 2007.

To date, the CNA has not endorsed any democratic candidate for president. On the contrary, it has publicly voiced its opposition to the front runners’ insurance-for-all plans as a handout to the insurance companies and a rip-off for patients.

To win universal health care, to defend its members from the decisions of the viciously anti-labor Bush NRLB, to maintain and broaden its coalition with patients, the CNA will have to leap into the ring of independent political action, running its own candidates with its own policies and politics. The sooner, the better.

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