Press Release

RNs Warn of Threat to Patient Care as Court Begins To Hear Corporate Attack on Workers, Union Rights

Salinas Valley nurses marching

Concurrent with the Supreme Court hearing today on a corporate-pushed case that would sharply erode worker and union rights, National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses is warning of dangerous implications for safe patient care.

The focus is a case called “Janus v. AFSCME,” solicited, pressed and bankrolled by billionaires and corporate executives, which is expected to receive a friendly hearing by the pro-corporate majority on the court.

Janus is openly intended to weaken public sector unions by encouraging employees in unionized public sector workplaces to refuse to pay dues — while they enjoy the rights and benefits of a union contract and representation, including their wages, benefits, and workplace conditions.

For nurses, and other healthcare workers, the threat to the public posed by the case is especially ominous. With hospitals and other public health employers increasingly cutting patient services and eroding other care conditions that put patients at risk, nurses need the collective support of their colleagues, through a union, to have a strong voice to advocate for their patients and communities, says NNU.

Martese Chism, a nurse at Chicago’s John H. Stroger Hospital, says: “The power of solidarity is what enables us to be strong patient advocates. Budget cuts frequently threaten to close services that the community desperately needs. When the system threatened to close pediatric services at Stroger, we came together with other public sector unions at County and fought to keep pediatrics open.”

“With the union I have that platform where I can safely speak out for patient care,” says Maureen Dugan, RN, who works at the University of California San Francisco. “It’s the union that brings many safety laws in legislation and public regulatory protections. It’s the union dues that fund those efforts,” says Dugan.

“As a public health nurse, I am a public servant, committed to serving Cook County’s most vulnerable communities. My union makes it possible for me to speak up on behalf of patients and the public, without fear of retaliation,” says Joanne Lingle, Cook County Public Health Nurse.

“Union protection absolutely saves lives,” says Sue Phillips, an RN who works at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Calif.

In advance of the Court hearing, NNU, joined by community supporters and elected leaders, sponsored rallies late last week in California and Chicago and joined other protest gatherings over the weekend.

NNU today cited seven reasons why they oppose the Janus case:

1. When hospitals cut corners on spending, they cut corners on human lives. From pushing patients out of the hospital while still ill, to stocking lifesaving supplies at a bare minimum, to having no limit on how many patients they assign to one overwhelmed RN, hospitals often make decisions that are good for profits — and bad for people. Who best to standup for patients in those situations? Empowered union nurses.

2. Unprotected nurses = unprotected patients. When nurses see a threat to patient safety, they must be able to speak up without fearing retaliation, thanks to the backing of their union. RNs with strong unions are more effectively able to challenge employers that want to cut patient care services, close hospitals and clinics, and force nurses to work in unsafe conditions.

3. Nurses know better than billionaires. Bankrolled by billionaires and corporate CEOs, “Janus” encourages employees to refuse to pay dues, while they enjoy the rights and benefits of a union contract and representation. A not-so-hidden goal is to decimate unions financially, crippling workers’ ability to challenge employer abuses. Nurses need union support to ensure profits for the rich and powerful do not come at the expense of public health and safety.

4. “Right to work” laws threaten public health. Janus is based on so-called “right to work” laws now in place in 28 U.S. states. In those states, household incomes are more than $8,000 less, people under 65 are 46% more likely to be uninsured, life expectancy rates are lower, and infant mortality rates are 12% higher.

5. Attacking nurse unions also jeopardizes patient care in non-union facilities. Because RNs in unionized facilities are better able to advocate for and win critical patient and nurse protections, non-union hospitals sometimes match these protections simply to keep their nurses from leaving. When union protections are destroyed, working conditions — and patient care conditions — in non-union facilities will also suffer.

6. “Janus” sets stage for silencing ALL nurses. “Janus” currently applies to unionized workers in public settings, but it sets the stage for a future case to disempower all unionized U.S. workers. This has already happened in the 28 states that have enacted so-called “right to work” laws. For patients, that would mean a future of disempowered nurses, no matter where lifesaving treatment is sought.

7. Case comes during flu epidemic, opioid crisis, when empowered RNs needed most. With thousands of U.S. patients dying in an especially harsh flu season, and an opioid crisis killing more than 115 Americans per day (according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse), our healthcare settings need a strong voice for safe patient care. Nurses are that voice. Weaken unions, and patient care suffers, at a time when we need strong nurse unions the most.

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