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Labor and Workplace Issues
   

Hilda Solis:  Fearless Advocate

                        for American Workers

Rep. Hilda Solis talks with nurses and hospital workers. Photo courtesy of www.hildasolis.org

Labor secretary nominee defends

workers' rights and living wages

by Catherine J. Rourke

Published February 2, 2009

As of press time, Senate Republicans continue to block the nomination of Hilda Solis due to her progressive stance in support of the nation's workers. With nearly two months lapsing since the Dec. 19 nomination, the Senate will finally determine this week whether or not Solis will serve as the nation's next labor secretary. For American workers, their fate inevitably hangs in the balance.

 

Adios, Elaine Chao. Bienvenidos, Hilda Solis!

Just when America’s exasperated workforce had withstood its worst possible assault – with lost pensions, frozen raises, stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, a bevy of pink slips and diminishing workplace rights – an 11th hour angel named Hilda Solis appears on the horizon to breathe new life into the ambushed labor landscape.

On December 19, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced the nomination of Rep. Solis (D-Calif.) as the nation’s 25th Secretary of Labor. While awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate, the appointment has created a wave of excitement among labor leaders and working families weary from eight years of corporate and government attacks on workers’ rights − if, and only if, the Senate approves her appointment.

Obama has repeatedly stated that the Bush administration and Chao spent eight years attacking workers' rights, wage and hour laws, health and safety rules and unions while crusading for corporate America.

“Remember, this is supposed to be the Department of Labor, not the Department of Management,” Obama said.  

 

Can American workers trust their elected leaders in the Senate to serve their needs by approving the nomination? And, can they count on Solis to change the department’s cowering to Big Business?

 

“We must enforce federal labor laws and strengthen regulations to protect our nation's workers, such as wage and hour laws and rules regarding overtime pay and pay discrimination,” Solis said during last month’s confirmation hearings.

 

Just who is this advocate for the downtrodden worker and how did she rise from low-income ranks to lead the future of labor for America?

Humble roots

Her father rallied for better health care benefits as an organizer for the Teamsters. Her mother worked for 22 years on the assembly line of Mattel Inc. as a member of the United Rubber Workers. From an early age, Solis observed labor fight for their rights and protect their interests on the job.

Perhaps it was this work ethic set by immigrant parents from Mexico and Nicaragua that inspired a young woman from humble roots to pursue a career upholding justice and equality for all people – one that would lead her to the California State Legislature and, eventually, Washington, D.C.

First she fought for living wages. Then she set out to create “green” jobs. Now the 51-year-old California congresswoman may become the working man’s ultimate ally. For them, there is suddenly renewed hope.

An emerging leader

A solid track record of monumental achievements reflects her determination and passion for social, environmental and economic justice. Raised in Los Angeles, Solis steadily worked her way up the educational and political ladders with one thing in mind: the needs of those she grew up with in middle-class and low-income working neighborhoods.

She began her public service career during the Carter administration as a newsletter editor-in-chief in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs. Shortly after, she was appointed to the Civil Rights Division within the Office of Management and Budget.

From there, Solis joined the California State Assembly in 1992 and then dedicated herself to low-income communities as the first Hispanic woman in the State Senate two years later, as well as its youngest member. She soon became known as a strong advocate for health care, environmental protection, education, labor and socioeconomic justice. 

Solis campaigned for a seat serving the 32nd Congressional District, which encompasses East Los Angeles and surrounding communities, in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000.  Her reputation as a fierce defender of the environment, a stalwart ally of working families and an unabashed crusader for women's rights not only won the election but also a John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award that same year.

In 2003, Solis became the first Latina to serve on the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which encompasses the environment, health care and telecommunications.

With an overwhelming 83 percent of the vote in the 2006 election, Solis was re-elected to the House by the people of the 32nd Congressional District. In 2008 she was named among the “Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Hispanics” by Hispanic Business magazine just before her re-election to California’s 32nd Congressional District.

Past record = future priorities

What can Americans expect from their next Secretary of Labor if her nomination is confirmed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee?

A review of the congresswoman’s voting record in Congress at www.themiddleclass.org reads like a fantasy wonderland for America’s downtrodden, ground and crunched and pummeled by corporate greed and the deaf ears of a detached administration.

Just a few of the bills Solis approved in 2008 include: H.R. 6899 - Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act of 2008; H.R. 6331 - Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act; H.R. 6049 - Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act; H.R. 1338 - Paycheck Fairness Act; H.R. 6867 - Unemployment Compensation Extension Act; H.R. 3963 - Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act; H.R. 6275 - Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act; H.R. 5244 - Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act; H.R. 4137 - College Opportunity and Affordability Act; and H.R. 3221 - The American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act. And there are countless others.

Raising California’s minimum wage represents one of Solis’ greatest victories in the state Legislature.  As an avid supporter of living wage campaigns, Solis ensures Americans enduring abysmal wages that such issues will remain high on her priority list as the new Secretary of Labor. So will labor law enforcement, which deteriorated under the Bush regime’s steady elimination of workplace investigators.

Solis also staunchly defended net neutrality when she served on the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. And, as a member of the Subcommittee on Health, she proved an aggressive opponent to the cuts to vital health services for low-income individuals, minorities and children. 

 

But wait; there’s more.

Other posts include serving on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and as vice chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials. She even wrote a measure to allocate $125 million for job training programs such as energy efficiency retrofitting and "green” construction.

 

In addition, Solis served on the Natural Resources Committee, which took a leading role in dismantling many of the environmental laws that were passed over the last century, including the Endangered Species Act. 

 

In defense of labor

The long-term congresswoman remains a passionate supporter of another kind of endangered species – the labor union. On her Web sites at http://solis.house.gov and www.hildasolis.org, Solis states that she “fervently believes that unions are vital to the health and strength of America's communities, allowing workers, the backbone of our nation, to stand up for themselves and their families.”

For Solis, that includes the freedom to join a union. Today, union workers comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. workforce compared with 35 percent in the 1950s.  Many workers who want unions claim that their companies maintain aggressive anti-union policies, with retribution for employees who attempt to organize their workplaces.

That’s why Solis supports H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would “amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish a system enabling employees to form, join or assist labor organizations to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts and for other purposes."

In addition, Solis avidly opposes all trade agreements that do not include strong labor, environmental and human rights protections. With an historic interest in immigration issues, the nation can expect to see new policies regarding undocumented and green card workers.

She has worked diligently to ensure the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, federal minimum wage increases, unemployment extensions and safe workplaces against constant threats from corporate interests to undermine them.

Solis serves as the only congressional member on the board of American Rights at Work, which advocates for workers’ right to form unions and bargain collectively.  As part of Obama’s labor agenda to revitalize unions, create jobs and support the middle class, Solis will evidently have a significant impact on these and many other workplace issues.

An irresistible force

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) described the labor secretary-designate this way: “Hilda Solis has turned out to be the irresistible force that makes the immovable object move. She understands the struggles that millions of Americans are facing, and she'll be an invaluable asset to President Obama in protecting workers' rights and restoring economic opportunity.”

Solis clearly faces many immovable objects – fierce opposition from big business to the Employee Free Choice Act along with resistance to living wages and improved working conditions, among many others.

Sometimes the greatest immovable object remains the workers themselves, who often view organized labor as a foe instead of a friend often due to false perceptions fueled by right-wing, anti-union propaganda. While a December 2006 Peter Hart Research Associates Poll reports that 58 percent of American workers – or more than 60 million employees – say they would join a union if given the chance, the remaining 42 percent feel that unions have made slow progress in protecting their interests.

Yet American workers continue to face an ongoing assault on their rights and everyday quality of life: archaic and oppressive labor laws, such as employment-at-will and right-to-work; the loss of their right to organize; frozen, prehistoric minimum wages; loss of overtime pay, pensions and health care; constant government rejection of the Employee Free Choice Act; threatened overrides of the Family Medical Leave Act; and, in some states, unsuccessful attempts to banish the employee lunch hours.

Solis remains steadfast in her determination to tackle obstructions to workplace justice. In accepting her recent nomination, she remarked: “We must enforce federal labor laws and strengthen regulations to protect our nation's workers, such as wage-and-hour laws and rules regarding overtime pay and pay discrimination. Through these and other efforts we can help strengthen one of America's greatest assets – its labor force,” she said.

Recalling how she watched her mother work double shifts at a factory while raising a family, Solis noted: “Throughout her life, my mom made every effort to instill strong values in her children, including a strong work ethic and the ability to overcome adversity. Her life demonstrates that people can rise above unfortunate circumstances and humble beginnings.”

Acknowledging her family for their longtime support, she added: “They have always believed in me, and have been my source of strength and teachers of the commitment to justice, equality and public service.”

Meanwhile, American workers anxiously await her prodding of some formerly immovable objects of tyranny and oppression.

Catherine Rourke is an award-winning “work-life balance” and labor journalist who produces the Observer in her spare time as a public service journalism “gift” to American workers. Visit the WHO page for more information and e-mail editor@SedonaObserver.com.

 

Links/Resources

HildaSolis.org

Learn more about Solis’ philosophy and priorities on her Huffington Post blog.

Read her Huffington Post blog comments on the Employee Free Choice Act.

 

COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE


LABOR VIEWS

Dick Meister

"The Labor Zeitgeist"

Editor's Note

The Observer is honored to present the words and insights of San Francisco-based journalist and fellow ILCA member Dick Meister as one of its newest columnists. Dick has been a prolific reporter and commentator for more than half a century at United Press, The Associated Press and PBS TV Station KQED in San Francisco, where he was the first – and, so far, only − television reporter to cover labor on a daily basis. He's also served as a reporter/photographer for the San Jose Mercury News, labor editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, city editor of the Oakland Tribune, and a frequent commentator on Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, Los Angeles and Houston, KQED-FM and other public radio stations.

Dick's columns will appear as a regular feature of the Observer's award-winning coverage of underreported labor and workplace issues.

 

“SMART, GUTSY, PASSIONATELY COMMITTED”

by Dick Meister

                       

Rarely has a nominee for any cabinet post drawn such widespread praise as President Obama’s choice for secretary of labor − and for good reason: Hilda Solis has the potential of returning the Labor Department to its mission of defending and strengthening the status of American workers.

 

Solis, daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Nicaragua, has the skill, experience, determination − and firm presidential backing − to shift the department from what’s been the opposite direction under Elaine Chao, the former Bush administration secretary of labor.

 

Chao, admittedly acting on orders from the White House, did little to combat the widespread employer violations of the laws that are supposed to guarantee workers union rights, safe workplaces and decent wages, hours and working conditions.

 

She opposed regulations that were designed to protect workers from the repetitive motion injuries that seriously harm millions of them and has withdrawn more than 20 other proposed safety rules. She slashed the budget for enforcement of the remaining regulations and virtually all other department functions aimed at helping workers. At the same time, she increased spending on enforcement of onerous union oversight regulations that were sought by anti-union employer groups.

  

The Government Accountability Office says the Bush/Chao Labor Department ignored many workers who have complained of being paid less than the federal minimum wage, of being cheated out of overtime pay, or even being denied paychecks due them.

 

An arbiter of fairness  

It’s clear, as Obama says, that the department has not lived up to its role − either as an advocate for hardworking families or as an arbiter of fairness in relations between labor and management.

 

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Labor and Education Committee, has an even harsher judgment. He says the department has “actively worked to undermine workers’ rights.”

  

Democrat Miller acknowledges that changing the department will be “particularly daunting.” But, like many others who have spoken out since Obama nominated Hilda Solis to succeed Chao, he says he’s confident Solis, a member of his committee, can pull it off.

 

If she does, she’ll rank as one of the greatest labor secretaries since the legendary Frances Perkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary throughout his 12 years as president. It was Perkins who first proposed and enforced many of the labor laws that grant workers the basic rights and protections that Elaine Chao has flaunted.

 

Like Perkins, who took office during the Great Depression, Solis would serve as secretary during a time of extreme economic problems and under a president who will rely on her to play an important role in attacking the problems. Obama says that will include “making our unions strong” and otherwise aiding workers, one of his top priorities.

Warrior for the worker   

Leaders of the country’s labor federations and hundreds of their affiliated unions agree with Obama that Solis would represent an exceptionally strong advocate for working people. So do Democratic Party leaders, many of Solis’ fellow Democrats who have served with her in Congress over the past eight years, and officials of liberal interest groups such as the Sierra Club.

 

Probably as much in Solis’ favor is the vehement opposition to her appointment by notoriously anti-labor organizations such as the National Right to Work Committee, whose Mark Mix warns ominously that she’s “a 100-percent proponent of unions.” Solis must be doing something right to draw such opponents.

 

Actually, she’s only a 97-percent proponent. That, at least, is how the AFL-CIO scores Solis’ congressional votes on labor issues.

 

She’s variously described by her many supporters as a tremendous champion of workers’ rights and of working families, a “warrior” who is relentless, unwavering and tireless in their behalf. They see her, too, as a progressive who will work closely with grassroots labor, environmental and immigrant worker groups.  One enthusiastic backer calls her “smart, gutsy and passionately committed.”

  

Solis’ record in Congress and in California’s State Legislature for six years before that does, indeed, show her to be one of the best political friends workers could hope for.

 

Solis led the way to increasing California’s minimum wage and tightening enforcement of the state’s pro-worker labor laws, for instance, and helped create environmentally friendly, energy-saving “green” jobs as well as job training programs at the state and federal level.

 

She’s helped expand unemployment and disability insurance programs, fought to protect minority and low-income communities from pollution and pesticide exposure.  She’s joined workers’ marches, picket lines and other demonstrations.

 

There’s no doubt Solis will carry out her promise to actually enforce and try vigilantly to expand and strengthen the laws and programs designed to aid workers,  their unions and their communities - if the Senate will give her the chance.

 

And, just as Frances Perkins once worked so hard for passage of the National Labor Relations Act that gave workers the basic right to unionize, Solis will be working hard for passage of the long-pending Employee Free Choice Act that would lift the legal barriers that have so seriously undermined the Labor Relations Act that only 12 percent of American workers now belong to unions.

 

Imagine that. A pro-labor secretary of labor.

 

Copyright © 2008 by Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who has covered labor and political issues for a half-century as a print, broadcast, and online reporter, editor and commentator. Contact him through his Web site at www.dickmeister.com and read more about his extensive journalism career on the Observer's Masthead/Bios page.

 

Watch for Dick Meister's next column coming soon: "BOLSHEVIKS IN SEATTLE?"

 

COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE

Posted February 19, 2009:

Thank you, Sedona Observer, for running two great articles in support of Rep. Hilda Solis. We workers really need someone in the Labor Dept. who "gets it" and can make a real difference in our working lives, which are becoming more and more oppressive with each passing year. For eight years the administration has put a foe in the Labor Dept. that promoted anti-worker policies, and we haven't had a "friendly" secretary in there since Robert Reich. It will be a miracle if the Senate approves someone in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act. For now, we can only hope the Senate doesn't try to undo all the good that President Obama is trying to achieve.

Richard Montclair,

Minneapolis, Minn.


Labor & Workplace

News and Views

Are you a worker with a challenging job situation you need to report? Are you a labor leader with an interesting update about your local campaign? Or perhaps you are someone who has a passionate commentary about some aspect of labor or the challenges of today's American workplace and archaic labor laws.

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Send your words, editorials and photos to editor@SedonaObserver.com. Please review the guidelines for submissions on our HOW page.


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Reviving Labor Media

Journalism turns a new page

in labor history

In 1917, the city of Jerome served as Arizona’s mining capital as well as the epicenter of Arizona’s labor movement. That year, a newspaper called The Arizona Labor Journal reported the mounting worker struggles in Jerome that it would later describe as “the greatest strife in the history of Arizona’s workers.”

Faced with unjust wages, long hours, safety issues and other grievances, the Jerome miners had turned to unions to rectify their brutal working conditions, with a rash of strikes threatening to disrupt the United Verde Copper Company's profits.

On July 17, 1917, the newspaper described the deportation of striking miners, highlighting their battle cry: “Insist on the Six-Hour Day! Act to Free Yourself from Wage Slavery!”

At 6 a.m. that morning, a group of company vigilantes rounded up more than 250 striking miners and herded them into the United Verde offices for termination. According to The Arizona Labor Journal, they were loaded aboard a cattle car attached to a Santa Fe freight train while their ringleaders were jailed in Prescott.

A similar debacle occurred in Bisbee that same year, which was reported in great detail by numerous media across the state, including The Prescott Journal Miner, The Tucson Citizen, the Arizona Republic and the Associated Press.

The deportation of Arizona's striking workers in Bisbee and Jerome was completed. Their protesting voices had been squelched along with their rights in workplaces wrought with safety hazards, injustice and abuse.

Same woes, different era

Now, 90 years later, the Jerome area continues to make Arizona labor history.

The Sedona Observer, launched in 2007 to carry the torch from The Arizona Labor Journal and produced just a few miles from Jerome, fills the gap left by mainstream media's lack of in-depth reports on labor news and views.

While based in the Verde Valley, the Observer offers a voice for all workers, labor unions and their members, as well as social justice organizations throughout Arizona and across the entire nation.

Written and edited by a professional labor journalist from the International Labor Communications Association and the National Writers Union, its purpose is to expose the truth about anti-union, anti-worker business and government practices as a means of supporting win-win solutions for both workers and their employers alike.

Ironically, it echoes workers’ rights issues chillingly similar to those chronicled in the pages of The Arizona Labor Journal in 1917.

Longer hours, less pay

Recent studies indicate that Americans are working increasingly longer hours, thanks to widespread layoffs that have them shouldering the tasks of laid-off colleagues or the financial need to juggle multiple jobs.

While laptops, cell phones, Blackberries and other technology facilitate many workplace functions, they also encourage workers to bring extra work home from the office to perform in their spare time "off the clock."

[See the upcoming Work-Life Balance page for more articles on shrinking leisure time.]

In addition, the Bush administration’s successful attempts to replace hourly wages with salaried, “exempt” ones in 2004 robbed many workers of their eligibility for overtime pay. This has created a mandatory overtime situation that represents unpaid labor for the vast majority of salaried workers, many of whom were formerly paid on an hourly basis.

In a different era, the same woes of too little pay and too many hours plaguing the miners continue to haunt today's workers.

A labor and media movement

Dedicated to educating, enlightening and empowering working people instead of the heralding the corporate elite's acts of piracy, The Sedona Observer strives to deliver the truth about labor, workplace and socioeconomic issues much like The Arizona Labor Journal did back in 1917 - with entire pages devoted to them instead of surface, sound bite reports.

We hope our articles can inspire more unity among workers and greater understanding of labor issues while serving as a catalyst for action and compassion for today’s beleaguered work force.

Now more than ever, American workers need a unifying force that can protect their rights, ensure better wages and benefits, provide grievance and mediation  systems and safeguard them against unfair practices.

The Observer's Labor and Workplace page is designed not only to resurrect a new Renaissance of worker empowerment in America, but also as a revival of the media's moral responsibility to report labor issues as a vital component of public service journalism.

We invite other members of the Fourth Estate to join us in the spirit of our profession to restore Americans' sacred trust in the media by upholding their First Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, we will continue writing headlines in the style of our predecessors at The Arizona Labor Journal:

Insist on the Six-Hour Day! Act to Free Yourself from Wage Slavery!

 

Catherine J. Rourke

Work-Life Balance, Health Care and Labor Journalist

International Labor Communications Association

National Writers Union, Local 1981

Written February 10, 2008, in Jerome, Ariz.


         

Arizona Nurses to Rally at State Capitol       

on February 12

Legislators join nurses in support of  HB 2186 to protect hospital patients

           NNOC nurses rally in 2008 for the Arizona Hospital Patient  

           Protection Act,then known as HB 2041. Photo courtesy of NNOC.

by Catherine J. Rourke

Published Feb. 5, 2009

Patients in hospital beds across Arizona are waiting right now for their Florence Nightingale to arrive with their medicine and to care for their needs. They wait. And wait. And wait… Their nurse, it seems, simply has too many patients ahead of them.

But now that nurse comes armed with a powerful new remedy for what ails them – HB 2186 − and the clout of the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Nurses from around Arizona will gather at the state Capitol in Phoenix on February 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for a “Day of Action” to educate legislators and Arizona residents in support of the Arizona Hospital Patient Protection Act, also known as HB 2186.

Organized by the NNOC-Arizona, the rally will start at 11 a.m. across from the capitol at Wesley Bolin Park in Phoenix and move to the courtyard by the state House of Representatives. Speakers include state legislators in support of the bill, NNOC leaders, seniors who will address the need for safety based on their experiences as hospital patients and, of course, the nurses themselves.

The bill, introduced in January 2009 by state Rep. Phil Lopes (D-27) and co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Chabin (D-2, Democrat) and Rep. Ed Ableser (D-17) – all Democrats, echoes similar proposed legislation in the Arizona legislature last year.

In February 2008, hundreds of Arizona nurses marched on the state Capitol in support of the Arizona Patient Protection Act of 2008, HB 2041, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tom Prezelski (D-29) at the request of NNOC/CNA.  

Safety and protection

The legislation is designed to make Arizona hospitals safer by guaranteeing more prudent nurse-to-patient ratios, protecting the right of nurses to act as whistle-blowers against unsafe conditions and offering legal recognition of the professional and moral obligations of nurses to act as patient advocates, solely in the interests of their patients. 

Among its major provisions, the act:

  • Mandates specific, minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, which are widely seen by nurses and health care experts to be the most effective standard for safer nursing care and for promoting the retention and recruitment of nurses.  
  • Whistle-blower protection for nurses who report unsafe hospital conditions or refuse unsafe patient care assignments.  
  • Legal recognition of the right of nurses to act as advocates for their patients rather than for the economic interests of their hospital employers. 

The act reflects three years of organizing and advocacy by the state’s relatively new nurses’ union, the NNOC-Arizona. Founded by the California Nurses Association in 2004, NNOC represents 85,000 nurses in 50 states, making it the largest and fastest-growing association of direct-care nurses in the nation.  Several thousand activist Arizona nurses have helped build NNOC into a statewide nurses’ movement.

 

Saving lives, preserving ethics

Supporters of the bill claim that it would save the lives of countless patients by requiring hospitals to abide by safer, mandated nurse-to-patient ratios in all units at all times.

Nurses have an ethical obligation to serve as patient advocates, which in practice can mean standing up to doctors, hospital executives, insurance representatives or others.  This ethical obligation and practice ensures that all care is provided in the exclusive interests of patients and not based on budgetary considerations. 

 

The Arizona legislation would require minimum ratios by unit – a floor for patient safety, with increased staffing when needed based on the severity of patient illness. Research has shown the need for such an approach to save lives. 

One study (The American Journal of Public Health, August 2005) found that cutting ratios to one RN per four patients could save 72,000 lives nationally, while another (Journal of the American Medical Association, October 22, 2002) found that up to 22,000 American lives are lost each year due to unsafe ratios. Other studies have linked everything from the rise of staph infections to the spread of pneumonia to unsafe ratios for direct-care nurses.

For more information on ratios, read “The Ratios Solution” at http://www.calnurses.org/assets/pdf/ratios/ratios_booklet.pdf.

Whistle-blower protection

Arizona law does not currently guarantee ethical obligations for nurses, nor does it provide strong whistle-blower protections for those who challenge unsafe care for their patients.

 

Nurses at several northern Arizona hospitals have reported overwhelming and unmanageable patient caseloads to the Observer, often double the standard patient number considered safe in the industry. (See “Condition: Critical,” The Sedona Observer, Oct. 21, 2007).

“When I worked newborn nursery, I would sometimes have up to eight babies to care for, in addition to helping out with deliveries and C-sections,”  said  Marlene Bullock, a registered nurse who works in the neonatal intensive care unit at several Phoenix-area hospitals. “Many times, I was unable to check on my newborns for four to six hours or even longer, which is a dangerous situation. Legislated ratios are the only way to prevent these kinds of unsafe situations.”

Some nurses also claim that hospitals have doubled their workload as a measure to cut payroll costs while top administrators continue to receive handsome perks, six-figure bonuses and seven-figure salaries.

Read the Observer’s prior investigative reports ("Prognosis: Disastrous," Feb. 12, 2008) of hospital operations, physician concerns and other health care issues at the links below.

 

Putting patients first

Registered nurse Jonna Peterson of Flagstaff, Ariz., told the Observer: “We feel that we need the Arizona Hospital Patient Protection Act to improve safety for our patients and for ourselves. There’s a real shortage of nurses who want to work in hospitals but who don’t because of current working conditions that compromise patient care. In California, where they have established legislated patient ratios, they have seen nurses returning to the profession.”

 

Similar bills to guarantee safe patient ratios in hospitals have been implemented in California and Victoria, Australia, where they have saved lives and eased the nursing shortage by attracting nurses back to critical care settings. 

“In order for an RN to truly care for the most vulnerable among us, in our hospitals, we need to know that every patient is guaranteed access to an RN, when they need it, and that RN has the protections she needs to do her job,” said Bullock.

NNOC nurses plan to take this proposal nationally, introducing bills in Texas, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and ultimately in the U.S. Congress, in addition to the Arizona legislation.

“It’s a new day in Arizona and America, and one of the first things we need to do is make sure nurses in every state can provide patients the care they deserve,” said Geri Jenkins, a nurse who serves as co-president of NNOC. “Arizona is leading the way.”

 

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Nurses and members of the general public who are interested in joining the rally should e-mail dglenn@calnurses.org or jlemmon@calnurses.org to register for the Day of Action in Phoenix. NNOC will provide transportation from northern and southern Arizona. Participants should e-mail organizers or call 480-290-8187 if they are interested in riding the "patient advocacy bus" to Phoenix from various locations around the state.

For more information about the event, call NNOC organizer Jennifer Lemmon at 480-290-8187. To learn more about HB 2186, visit the NNOC Arizona Web site. Learn more about NNOC at www.calnurses.org.

Editor's Note: Public Service Journalism

The Observer’s ongoing investigative reports of hospital conditions and other health care issues represent a significant part of its nonprofit public service journalism for the common good and the catalyst for launching the national online newspaper in 2007 (see the History of The Sedona Observer).

To date, hospital administrators have failed to respond to the paper’s calls and e-mails in its attempt to present both sides of the story. Click on the following links to view the Observer's prior in-depth coverage of these workplace and health care issues:


Can the Boss Do That?

Most of the time, yes.

Now...

 

Workers can ask a lawyer – for free

Working America Web service

explains workplace rights

It may not always feel like it, but you do actually have some legal rights and protections on the job.  Now Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is offering "Ask a Lawyer" - a free online service to help workers understand their rights and determine whether the boss can do that – or not.

Go to:http://www.workingamerica.org/askalawyer.

The 1.6 million-member Working America – one of the country's fastest-growing progressive organizations – offers workers who don't have a union on the job a powerful voice to weigh in on the policy issues that affect them most.  Members receive a number of other benefits including access to a network of lawyers nationwide who will provide a free, half-hour consultation on a workplace issue, either in person or on the phone.

Now, Working America is also offering Ask-a-Lawyer, an online way to learn about your rights in the workplace.  You can read answers from lawyers, browse topics and send us any question that relates to your job, from "Can I get fired for something I put on my blog?" (Probably, unless you are writing about politics) to "Can I get fired for being a smoker even if I don't smoke at work?"  (Yes, in 21 states.) 

Although Working America cannot provide specific legal advice or tell you what to do, when you send in your questions about overtime, workers compensation, discrimination and pay and benefits, you will get information from a trusted source to help you better understand your rights on the job.

No identifying information – like your boss's name – is required to ask a question, and none appears on the site.  Instead, questions are reworded to ensure anonymity and the requested information appears on Working America's site as the "question of the day."

"Having a union is the best way to ensure your rights on the job are protected, but not everyone is lucky enough to work in a place with union representation," said Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America.  "For workers who don't have unions, knowing your rights is the only way to ensure that the business you work hard for every day is treating you fairly in return.