Category Archives: Labor Organizing

Save Lives? Give Healthcare Workers Raises

New Orleans       Hey, bosses of healthcare workers, listen up!  Yo, consumers and families of healthcare services, pay attention to this, like your life is at stake, since for more than half of you over 65, it is, because you will end up in long-term care.  Policy peeps and political hacks, heads up:  pay attention in class.  What’s up?  There’s some news we can use thanks to some deep data analysis and research done by economist Krista Ruffini for the Minnesota Federal Reserve Bank.  (Higher Wages, Service Quality, and Firm Profitability: Evidence from Nursing Homes and Minimum Wage Reforms)

Here’s the bottom line:  Ruffini found that a 10% increase in the minimum wages for direct care staff in nursing homes led to less turnover, fewer inspection deficiencies, and 15,000 lives saved.  Yes, those of us who represent direct health care workers in nursing homes and community care facilities have always told you so, but now, finally, someone has marshaled the facts behind our arguments.  Ruffini in her paper notes that most previous research has been in production and retail work, so now we’re getting our due.

Furthermore, there was no evidence in her research that smaller healthcare operators went out of business nor that jobs were lost, nor were there regional differences.  The only downside is that operators increased their prices somewhat to cover the wage increases and tried to enroll more private patients, but frankly they have been doing that anyway without sharing much with the workers, so it’s more like a scratch, and less like a wound.

Some of this isn’t news exactly.  Ruffini notes that her work aligns other studies that have found that increasing pay for public employees like hospital workers improves “service quality” and for teachers “improves test scores.”

In another comment close to our beating union hearts, she notes that “…unionization decreases staffing levels but does not worsen patient outcomes, suggesting labor market policies can alter worker productivity in this sector.”  That’s interesting as well, especially when compared to the sound and fury of employers every time we launch an organizing drive in health care facilities.  She also found that such wage increase didn’t alter the “demographics” of the workforce nor the did it change the level of “credentialed” staffing, which is another way of telling employers that they would still be hiring from the same local racialized and gender-dominated labor pool, which might make them panic less.

Does any of this really matter, and will it mean more in the pockets of lower-waged direct care workers?  I’m betting yes.  The pandemic has raised public understanding of the necessity and existence of essential workers, while also underlining the fact that nursing home and other direct healthcare workers face hotspots.  Employers have had to respond in many cases with more protection for workers, pay increases, and hazardous duty pay.  Studies like Ruffini’s may make it harder to reduce wages, allowing direct care workers to hold onto these gains and convert them permanently, improving their lives and saving lives at the same time.  A rare, but welcome, win-win.


Please enjoy Magnolia Road by The Allman Betts Band.

Thanks to WAMF.


Organizing Obstacles Come with Online and At-Home Work

New Orleans      Speaking as an organizer, be careful what you wish for, if you’re hoping the pandemic means more online work and work from home, because it is easy to see even more obstacles ahead for work-based and union organizations.

The more I read about schools and universities moving increasingly to online teaching, the more I worry about teachers’ unions of every variety being defanged.  In the United States in recent years one of the beating heartbeats of hope for a resurgence of labor has rested on the shoulders of teachers.  Red state teachers’ organizations in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona, brought conservative legislatures and governors to their knees with lengthy job actions and strikes to win raises, smaller classroom size, and better in-classroom support.  By taking collective action, they also won huge public support by linking militant action with community and student-oriented demands in addition to wage increases.  One of the themes of these strikes was the way that rank-and-file teachers used social media to mobilize strength, sometimes pressuring their unions to follow where they were demanding that they lead.

Nonetheless, on-line classrooms and more online learning in the future will also decrease solidarity and relationships between teachers that come from daily contact, lunch and breaks in the ubiquitous teachers’ lounges, collaborative teaching and field trips, and even the mentorship of transferring both skills and union values to new potential teachers during their practice teaching requirements for licensure.  Having the districts provide computers and higher speed internet for online work from a teacher’s home, also allows employer monitoring of that work and those communications to move to another level.

This is all true in public schools, but will be no different at the college and university level once contact is decreased.  Organization in higher education will also be impacted.  A high point for some unions has been the recent unionization of adjuncts.  Not having the adjuncts teach from physical locations will make hard work even harder.  Having big tech companies adopt remote work also raises unionization, already rare, to yet another level of difficulty.

ACORN UK’s head organizer was telling me about what may be a record size for a Zoom meeting when one-third of the membership of the teachers’ union in Britain signed on to make plans and protest school reopening in England for the next couple of months.  I can’t see how any of these changes make unionization easier.  Zoom and other systems are great organizing tools, but they don’t substitute for direct relationships.

We always believed that our success in organizing home health care aides and home day care workers without centralized workplaces was because the union had as much, if not more, access to the workers as the employers did.  At the same time, we forged those relationships between workers and between workers and the union in direct meetings and visits.

Using Zoom and other tools to facilitate mass communications is great for our organizations, but believing that people are going to risk their jobs and security for a Zoom buddy, as opposed to someone that they have met, know, and have joined in struggle is a stretch.  Atomizing workplaces creates huge obstacles for organization in most situations where those wanting to build collective organization and action are already at a huge disadvantage.  As organizers equally skilled and comfortable organizing in the community as the workplace, we’ll have some advantage adapting, but we won’t pretend that finding more workers at home makes anything easier.



Thanks to WAMF.