In the News
Workers’ Fight to Defend the Right to Health Care and Education
U.S. Nurses Hold Day of Action to Demand Safe Conditions for All
On January 13, nurses, other health care workers and community organizers in the United States held a National Day of Action to demand the federal government meet the needs of health care workers, patients, and families for safe staffing, protective gear, testing, sick days and more. They emphasized that conditions for all concerned are worsening, as minimal protections are being eliminated while new cases and hospitalizations continue to soar. On January 10 the U.S. set a world record for the highest seven-day running average of 700,000 new cases a day, the number tripling in just two weeks.
Initiated by National Nurses United (NNU), actions of various types were held across the country. These included a national webinar with information and nurse testimony on COVID conditions and concerns, a national press conference, a candlelight vigil in Washington, DC and local vigils and Zooms. Nurses demanded that the private hospital industry join them in meeting safe staffing requirements and protective gear for workers and patients alike.
They also brought to the fore that President Biden has not met his campaign promise to protect health care workers and prioritize public health. The COVID crisis in the U.S. takes place in the context of a health care system that is almost completely private, racist, and inaccessible for many and that has long failed the large majority.
NNU also emphasized that in recent weeks the Biden administration has ripped away critical minimum protections from health care workers and the public. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) weakened COVID isolation guidelines, contributing to further spread of the disease. The nurses provided experience and facts to show that the guidelines for how long infected people are to isolate need to remain at at least 10 days. They said that 14 days is better, but the current five to seven days is not at all sufficient. Workers are being required to return to work while still sick.
In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has said it will withdraw the minimum temporary standard it set last June. This includes requiring protections for workers and patients alike. The temporary OSHA standard was won last June as a result of determined and repeated struggles by health care workers together with many others. It set a federal minimum in terms of requiring all hospitals, nursing homes and clinics to provide masks and other protective gear. Now, instead of OSHA providing a permanent federal standard for all the protections required for all health care workers, it is eliminating the minimum that it set previously.
Nurses spoke out at the actions, saying that being left unprotected by the government and by profit-driven private hospital employers — which have both failed to ensure safe staffing and provide critical health and safety protections — has created unsafe and inhumane conditions for health care workers and patients. At a time when more nurses are needed, many are being driven away from the profession.
By setting a federal standard, Biden could contribute to safer conditions and save lives but refuses to do so. The nurses are again circulating a petition demanding that Biden act immediately, including setting a federal OSHA standard. Nurses and the many joining them are persisting in organizing and relying on their own efforts to defend the rights of health care workers and the public.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 17, 2022. Photos: National Nurses United.)