Tag Archives: nursing home workers

Some Changes the Coronavirus Should Bring

Pearl River     In the Age of Trump and the Time of the Coronavirus, there seems to be constant speculation about what changes in our society, habits, and government might be permanent given our collective experience.  Much of this is hyperbole.  One pundit argued that he went “to sleep in America and woke up in democratic socialist Europe.”  Oh, if dreams could come true!  Let’s instead talk about lessons we should learn in this crisis, and things that should absolutely change in the wake of this crisis.

The Affordable Care Act is now ten years old, celebrating its anniversary during the lockdown.  No matter Trump’s rhetoric and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican caucus, can anyone make the case that the private health insurance and the patchwork quilt of state health coverage is adequate for our people?  The elimination of mandatory coverage left our hospital network damaged, albeit their greedy pricing of their services, drugs, and the like are major players as well, forced mergers and left us with too many sick and not enough beds, equipment, and personnel.  Millions in states across the country are facing this crisis without any insurance.  That has to change.

How could we not learn that the internet has to become a public utility?  How could we not realize that we finally have to take this matter out of the hands of the telecoms and the pattycake FCC voluntary programs and eliminate the digital divide, here and around the world?  How can all the ideologues who want to argue that education is the answer, despite the facts, maintain their position as the country from elementary to college is pushed into on-line learning, leaving lower income families even farther behind?   Put this near the top of the list.

Living wages, paid sick leave, real unemployment benefits, the play pretend that gig workers are not employees, are all things that we have once again been taught have to be part of the safety net for everyone, especially lower waged workers and their families.   The failure of government in this crisis has to end the argument that somehow the private sector and the magic of market forces are somehow going provide for families.  They never have, and they never will.  That’s why we need a government, it’s time to make them do the job.

I didn’t put this on the top of the list, but our union represents home care workers, nursing home workers, developmentally disabled workers, and the government and society has depended on them for care as much as they do hospital workers, yet they are severely underpaid and under resourced.  Good health care is a top to bottom priority, and we have to guarantee our people that they will be provided for when in care, and when giving care.

Yes, people will finally learn to wash their hands better, but the virus ought to bring forward a host of changes that we desperately need and can no longer ignore.  The temptation by policy makers will be to fight the last war, rather than the next, by putting more respirators and masks into production.  Many of us will include different items in our “run for it” bags and storage closets for sure.  But we need to learn from this that there are fundamental changes that we have to make in protection and provision for our people, and we need to do it now.


The Rarity of Labor Union Strikes in Today’s Economy and Labor Market and Lost Hope at NLRB

New Orleans   In Social Policy magazine we’ve published in the current issue a solid description of the ups and downs of a group of nursing home workers in Connecticut.    The piece focused on the lessons learned in the course of a strike that the workers and the union felt was successful.  We also published in an earlier issue last year an excerpt of a book calling for a revitalization of the role of strikes in labor relations.

Looking at a chart in the Wall Street Journal, it seems clear that workers are “voting with their seat,” rather than “voting with their feet” and hitting the street.

The 21st Century is not a striking century for workers and their unions.   The graphic recorded both strikes and lockouts, and it goes without saying that a lockout is a management tactic to coerce a unionized group of workers to accept certain terms and conditions of employment, in the same way that a strike is a tool for workers to try and bring a company to heel or , these days, back to reason.   The chart indicted that in this century only once has there been more than 20 of these things and in some years, hardly a handful.

Caterpillar, the tractor maker, is once again a screaming canary in this mind shaft and trying to force its workers in plants to take frozen wages over 6 year contracts, with fewer and fewer seniority rights for shifts or jobs.  Workers in Joilet, Illinois seem to have come to that cold place in the night where you may know the boss may beat you, but he’s going to have to whip you first.

No one pretends that this is a winning strategy, only that when there was no other recourse they then had no choice.

At the same time the “reforms” of the more activist Obama appointed members of the NLRB seem to have stalled again.  The simple “notice” provision which would have required a posting of the law and protections for workers to organize freely at all workplaces, seems to have been stymied.  The rules on quicker elections seem lost in a deep quiet zone as well, where perhaps no news is good news, since the only safe bet would be lawsuits trying to block the rules.

The election, if lost, would eviscerate the NLRB in the same way we now see the right moving to de-unionize the public sector in state after state.  Where does this leave workers?  Fewer strikes, more lockouts, and fewer victories from either one may argue for more corporate campaigns, but watching the Walmart corruption press rise and fall and the shell game of corporate social responsibility, and the diminishing “power” of the press, and it is clear that there is no silver bullet here.  In the same way we need to adopt new organizing strategies, we need the same new thinking for action tactics.