A patient died at Alta Bates Sutter Medical Center in Oakland on Saturday due to an error by a scab nurse.
One might be inclined to blame the California Nurses Association (CNA), which was on strike against the hospital, except that the nurses had only engaged in a one-day strike on Thursday. When they returned to work on Friday, they found the hospital’s entrances blocked by armed guards, according to the Left Labor Reporter. They had been locked out and replaced by poorly trained scabs, one of whom accidentally killed the patient on Saturday.
The hospital, which is demanding 200 concessions from its nurses, thought they might be able to bully the nurses into accepting their demands by temporarily locking them out. Their stupid tactic not only showed an utter lack of regard for their employees, but an even greater disregard for their patients. CNA members even warned the hospital that it was unsafe to hire the scabs, as they lacked the training and experience to do the job safely.
Some of the hospital’s demands will increase nurses’ caseloads and decrease their ability to advocate for patients, both of which will undermine patient safety, security and ability to heal quickly. The incident on Saturday is a harbinger of the implications of these policies.
The CNA is calling the lockout punitive. While Sutter claims that their temp agency would only provide scabs on five-day contracts, other local hospitals that were also affected by the one-day strike on Thursday did not lock out their nurses. As of yesterday, the Sutter nurses were still locked out.
Even if the nurses had not been locked out, but had been off the job because of a planned strike, the blame for any injuries or deaths to patients would still belong to the hospital executives. First, it is unreasonable for workers in the helping professions to allow themselves to be blackmailed and intimidated into accepting low pay or terrible working conditions by accusing them of not caring about their clients. A similar type of bullying is commonly used against teachers, too. If this tactic were consistently allowed to succeed, then nurses’ and teachers’ working conditions could deteriorate to 16-hour days for minimum wage.
However, it is not just a tactical impracticality to accept the bosses’ accusations that striking workers are to blame for workplace mishaps and declining services. The bosses’ attempts to weaken job security, lower pay and benefits, increase hours and workloads, and stifle free speech in the workplace all jeopardize client safety and the quality of services workers are able to provide.
Declining pay, for example, results in higher attrition and greater difficulty hiring and retaining quality employees in the first place, both of which result in deteriorating quality of service. Increased hours and greater workplace demands not only stress workers physically and emotionally, increasing the chances of accidents, but they also stretch workers thin, decreasing response times during crises. Attacks on job security and speech hamper the ability and willingness of employees to advocate for clients, decreasing the likelihood that their needs will be met.
Hence, strikes by nurses, teachers and others in the “helping” fields, are not only about protecting employees’ income and working conditions, but about improving the conditions and services for the employees’ clients such as patients and students.