Strikes and work stoppages have long been organized labor’s ultimate trump card.
Merely the possibility of workers walking off the job en masse, and the resulting productivity losses and negative press, have forced many an employer to cave to union demands, no matter how unreasonable or economically ruinous in the long term.
But there are times when union agitations threaten more than just a bottom line. Sometimes they threaten the public safety.
For example, Sutter-Tracy Community Hospital is a small, 82-bed facility in the Sacramento area owned by Sutter Health. On Nov. 11, nurses there walked off the job.
It was all part of a two-day, national nurse walkout instigated by National Nurses United, the California-based union that represents 185,000 members. Union leaders were claiming that hospitals were leaving nurses vulnerable to Ebola infection through gross negligence. NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro righteously proclaimed at a news conference: “Nurses are now being asked to put themselves in harm’s way unprotected, unguarded.”
Ultimately 19,000 nurses walked off the job that week across California. Nationally the union hoped 100,000 nurses across 14 states and the District of Columbia would participate in the “Ebola” protest.
Like a lot of hospitals, Sutter-Tracy had been in intense negotiations with the union, but the Ebola demands came out of the blue. Administrators explained in a statement that during the last negotiating session on Oct. 30, union representatives at no time raised concerns about Ebola training or equipment.
It began to look like union leaders were seizing upon Ebola fears as a public relations tool with which to beat up administrators who sat across from them at the bargaining table, a not-so-subtle form of blackmail that went like this: “Give in to everything we want, or we’ll make you seem like heartless monsters who want nice nurses to catch Ebola.”
Thankfully, hospitals are hitting back, pointing out that facilities across the country are working hard and spending millions to bring themselves in compliance with new Ebola preparedness guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials are also calling out the recklessness of the union’s tactics. C. Duane Dauner, president of the California Hospital Association, and Patricia McFarland, CEO of the Association of California Nurse Leaders, released a joint statement that said the union’s “use of scare tactics and unjustified work disruptions are irresponsible.”
NNU’s behavior is straight out of Leftist Agitation 101. In fact, like most labor unions, NNU makes no bones about its political leanings or muscle. Obamacare may be unpopular with the general public, but union leaders don’t think it goes far enough and have lobbied heavily for a national, single-payer system.
Tactically, it makes sense for the union to squeeze hospitals at the height of cold and flu season. But there is no moral justification for encouraging its members to abandon the ill when they are most needed, let alone take advantage of public fears over an exotic virus to gain the upper hand in contract negotiations. So much for putting patients first.
Matt Patterson is executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group affiliated with Americans for Tax Reform.