RNs will never stop fighting, every day, every year for a society based on care
Time passes strangely during a pandemic. A shift can flash by in what feels like an hour, and a single day as a registered nurse can also feel like it contains enough physical, mental, and emotional weight to last an entire lifetime.
Now, we’re approaching the end of 2021 and getting ready to mark two years of Covid-19. It’s surreal that much time has gone by since we warned our employers to prepare for a novel coronavirus rapidly spreading around the globe. It feels like both yesterday and eons ago that we first stood up to demand that they follow the precautionary principle, provide us with optimal PPE, and follow all the multiple measures of infection control to keep our patients, colleagues, families, and communities safe.
Looking back on all the seasons of this pandemic, it’s not surprising that our profit-driven employers have failed us every step of the way, from telling us to wear bandanas as PPE, to the present day, when they are crying about the so-called “nursing shortage” while actively driving nurses away from the profession.
But you know what? It’s also not surprising that union nurses have spent every single day of Covid-19 rising up like never before. We haven’t let our employers have even a moment’s rest in their greed. So when I look back on the pandemic, as 2021 comes to a close, above all, I feel an incredible sense of pride at the critical role each and every one of you have played in protecting people across the country and around the world.
NNU nurses have held more than 3,000 actions during Covid, and we won critical victories in many facilities, on everything from PPE to staffing. We have also stood up at the highest levels of power, testifying to the White House and Congress about the protections we need, including congressional testimony in early December of 2021 about the dire need for legislative and regulatory solutions to our employer-manufactured staffing crisis.
And in a huge victory back in June, thanks to unrelenting NNU nurse advocacy, we won an Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard (ETS) on Covid. The ETS mandates employers give nurses optimal PPE and other protections, and it is the first OSHA ETS since 1983. We have been fighting to make these protections permanent.
We have also maintained strong membership in the face of right-to-work attacks, and thousands of nurses across the country stood up and organized with NNU affiliates during Covid-19. This includes the historic victory at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., the biggest union victory seen in the anti-union South in decades.
Back in May of 2021, NNU nurses were bargaining for contracts covering around 65,000 nurses across the country. Our RNs stood up, fought harder than ever, and settled more than 50 contracts in just a matter of months!
We are very proud that NNU nurses have been able to win contract language on so many critical health and safety issues, including nurses’ right to optimal PPE, the creation of infectious disease task forces that trigger within hours after an infectious disease outbreak, safe staffing, no takeaways on benefits, historic wage increases, and more.
We have even used our contract language in innovative ways to widen protections for our community and bargain for social justice. And we are demanding opportunities, resources and support for nurses who have been historically marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed. NNU nurses have also been able to fight exploitation of our patients by including contract language stating that health care is a guaranteed right of all people, in line with our fight for Medicare for All.
We’ve also taken our fight global during Covid-19, joining forces with nurses worldwide in Global Nurses United, most recently to petition the United Nations for vaccine equity.
And we’re not done fighting. NNU nurses will be marking the new year by flexing our collective power. On Jan. 13, we will be holding a national day of action to demand our employers invest in safe staffing and other critical protections.
So while we may look back on the pandemic and remember the individual weeks that felt 1,000 years long, or on the moments with our loved ones that felt impossibly fleeting, I want each of you to remember that this surreal time is a time that nurses made an indescribable difference in our communities, our country, and in the world. We met this pandemic head on and made it our time to fight harder than ever before for an entire society based on care.
I wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe new year. And I hope each one of you remembers that countless people are alive to ring in 2022 because registered nurses stood up for your patients — moment after moment, day after day, week after week, month after month, and now year after year. And you can all be so very, very proud.