The California Nurses Association, an affiliate of the 185,000-member National Nurses United, is planning to go on strike for two days next week across Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern and Central California. Organizers say that at least 18,000 nurses throughout the state will walk out of the job on November 11 as a means to pressure the health giant into providing adequate training and protective equipment for nurses who might come into contact with Ebola-infected patients. An additional 400 workers will go on strike at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. And, on November 12, they will be joined by nurses in Chicago, Durham N.C., Kansas City and dozens of other cities for a national day of “Ebola Safety Actions.”
Based in Oakland, Calif., National Nurses United was founded out of the California Nurses Association in 2009. Since then, National Nurses United has become the largest nurses union in the country, and an outspoken advocate for single-payer healthcare, Medicare expansion and a range of social justice issues.
For the last several months, the California Nurses Association has been engaged in lengthy contract negotiations with Kaiser Permanente, California’s largest healthcare system and the eighth largest in the country. Ebola protections have become a central and very public piece of the contract talks since the first domestic case of the virus was confirmed in Dallas in late September.
Next week’s strike follows another by healthcare workers in Liberia, the country that’s been hit hardest by Ebola. Nurses and other staff at John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, the country’s largest hospital and its only trauma referral center, have struck periodically since early September. Their demands are nearly identical to those of National Nurses United: full-body hazmat suits, proper training and hospital-wide compliance with safety regulations. Workers — organized under the National Workers Union of Liberia — are also asking for higher wages. Currently, as AFP reports, salaries for healthcare workers can dip as low as $250 per month.
National Nurses United has asked principally that hospitals nationwide comply with the most recent guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control last month. Since then, the union has circulated a petition asking Congress or President Obama to make the CDC’s recommendations binding. Maine nurse Kaci Hickox made national news recently by defying orders for her quarantine after returning from a trip with Doctors Without Borders to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.
There’s no easy answer for how to treat the virus, but nurses in California and elsewhere are helping to ensure that healthcare workers get both the protection and the wages they need to treat patients as the virus continues to spread. As Kaiser Oakland nurse Katy Roemer said on the group’s website, “If we’re going to put our lives on the line, we believe that we need the equipment that will allow us to do that as safely as possible, for ourselves and our communities.”