By Reymi Updike, RN, Lancaster resident
I haven’t always been a nurse, but I have always been a worker. I’ve had other jobs, jobs I felt were important. I think all jobs are important. The people who handle our money and loans at the bank are important. The people that cook our food are important. The people who teach our kids are important. The people who build cars are important. But before I was a nurse, the direct subject of my work was never the one thing that truly matters the most in this world of ours — the life of human beings.
Before I was a nurse, I had never seen a human being die. I had never been in an operating room and seen a human body cut open and surgery performed. Before I was a nurse, I had never had to breathe for a human, or restart their heart. Before I was a nurse I had never helped a stranger deliver a human baby and watch as it took its very first breath of air. I had never accessed the veins of a fragile, 2 pound human baby. I had never pushed lifesaving medications in to human flesh or given blood transfusions. I had never known the intimate personal details of so many humans — witnessing their happiest, darkest, most vulnerable times. I had never known how crazy the world is, or how much I could care.
“All in a day’s work” had never included being responsible for a human being’s life — or death. Not until I was a nurse.
One of my nursing instructors told me that the bond you form with your fellow nurses can be compared to the bond that forms between soldiers in war. The things that you go through in this job, the things that you see and feel, are things that other people will never understand.
For the past 14 years, the public has voted nurses as the most trusted profession in America, according to the annual Gallup poll ranking of honesty and ethics in various fields.
My co-workers and I leave our families for 12+ hours at a time, 24 hours a day/7 days a week, to care for your families. We expose our own selves to illness, injury and abuse to treat and help others. We deal with mental and physical stress and fatigue. We remain calm in the face of fear and uncertainty. We stand our ground to advocate for you. We continually adapt to industry policies. We improvise and flow with the un-predictableness that is human nature. Most of us have sore feet and bad backs. We sacrifice so much to do our jobs. We step outside of any kind of comfort zone on a regular basis. We constantly exercise ethics and integrity. We push through chaos and raw emotion that most people would run away from.
No one who does this day after day, year after year, does it for the money. How do you even put a price on this work? The money would never be enough to keep you coming back. We do it because we care, because at the end of the day when we clock out – we feel like we might have made a difference in someone’s life, a ripple in the world. We do it because we are fulfilling our own meaningful journeys. We do it because we love what we do, we thrive on it. We are nurses.
Nursing is a career with so many options. We can go almost anywhere and find a job. Antelope Valley Hospital has a high turnover rate of nurses lately, but it hasn’t always been that way. Many of us have spent our entire careers here. We work at Antelope Valley Hospital because it’s our community’s hospital. We have spent our lives growing up in this Valley, raising our families here, planning our futures here. We have watched as this area has grown, and changed — and not always in a good way, or a way that makes our job easier (or safer).
Inside the walls of this hospital, we have had our babies, we have lost our loved ones. Our neighbors and friends and family have come to this hospital for generations, for help and care. Unlike Alecto, our ties to this hospital and this community run deep. We know and care about the people that come here.
As a bedside nurse, I don’t want to be bothered with the politics of the hospital. I don’t focus on the fact that Nurses Week doesn’t get celebrated or that management doesn’t recognize me. I don’t concern myself with what kind of insurance my patient has, or if they even have any. My care will be the same. Regardless of my relationship or feelings towards my employer, I clock in for every shift focused on my skills, my heart, my instincts, my team — and my patients. We all do. Nurses truly are the heartbeat of the hospital. Who suffers when decisions are made that hurt the nurses? When good nurses leave? Without committed nurses, what happens to the hospital? What happens to the patients that depend on this hospital? All business aside, what really is the priority here?
Our contract with Antelope Valley Hospital expired 14 months ago. Since then, we have gone through a plethora of changes in management, ultimately leading to where we stand now — our Board’s choice: Alecto Healthcare.
A quick Google search or glance at their website can fill you in on their bottom line, especially if you read between the lines. I don’t want to waste too much time talking about them or their history and reputation. Fact is, they are here and we have to deal with them. Attempts to negotiate a new contract seem few and far between. Little to no progress is made when bargaining meetings do occur. Frustrating!
It is frustrating to go days, weeks, months… wondering what is going on. It is frustrating to read BS propaganda, twisted to make us somehow look bad, and see it distributed online and in our break rooms. It is frustrating to be addressed by your CEO in the local newspaper, rather than with respect in the workplace. It is frustrating to listen to speculation and rumors all around you. It is frustrating to hear misguided people assume that unions are ridiculous and members are selfish.
I felt that right now would be the perfect time to remind myself, and everyone else, why unions are important and why we need to be fighting for ours right now! We should all understand how our union was formed and why what we have is worth keeping.
The basic principles of a union concern workers of all races and beliefs. A union is simply a group of people who come together with a single purpose — to achieve a better life for themselves, and for their families. Unions support the fact that in America, everyone should be able to earn a living wage, be guaranteed certain rights, and expect to work under fair and safe conditions.
American labor unions first gained strength in the 1820s. The United States has a bloody history of labor, rich in human drama and tragedy, full of progress and hope. Throughout our nation’s history, the labor movement has led struggles that have ended child labor, secured unemployment insurance, guaranteed a minimum wage, established pensions and much more.
In the 1960s, nearly half of America’s workforce belonged to a union. Today, less than 12% of workers do. As union membership goes down, income inequality nationwide goes up. Coincidence?! The huge decrease in unionized jobs has weakened workers’ power to bargain for higher wages, more comprehensive benefits, and better working conditions. It has drastically strengthened the hands of employers, and undercut the chance for middle class workers to have good jobs and economic security. Why are we going backwards?
None of the benefits and protections that we have as working people was gifted to us by the generous ones we work for. Unions were started for real and necessary reasons – people lost their lives fighting for things we take for granted. Union or not, without solidarity, none of us stand a chance against bullies that are much more powerful than us.
The California Nurses Association (CNA) was founded in 1903. It is currently one of the fastest growing labor organizations in the United States. The strength of the CNA has enhanced the collective voice of RNs in patient care decisions and outlawed dangerous practices such as mandatory overtime. The nurses of the CNA have worked together to ensure dramatic improvements to retain career RNs at the hospital bedside and protect patients overall. Most notably, CNA sponsored the nation’s first RN patient safety law, requiring RN-to-patient ratios.
In 2002, nurses at Antelope Valley Hospital joined together (despite management efforts) and became a part of the CNA. Many of those nurses still work here and can tell you how very different things were before they unionized. Today there are about 980 of us that pay our union dues every month. I can guarantee you that no one is getting rich in a union. You are the union. I am the union. We are the union. The hour of pay that comes out of your check is a very small price to pay for the protections that this membership provides you. Those dues allow me to say that I am not just one nurse standing up for what is right, I am part of 980 nurses standing together for what is right!
As this drags on we all have a choice to make: we can lose hope and feel helpless, get bitter and drag down morale, or we can grow more determined and feel more empowered. We can be grateful that we even have a voice, or a vote or a say in this matter. We can be glad we have the opportunity to bargain for our contract and not just take what is handed to us. This is a big battle, but larger battles have been won. Ninety-six percent of us voted to strike if we need to. Not a single one of us looks forward to it. The strike is a powerful tool in our arsenal that reminds management why they need us and how valuable we are to their operations. We need to remember that without unity, we have no power. We fight together, for each other.
We are 980 nurses committed to fair practices for our community and our patients. We need to respect our history and protect our future. It is because of people just like you and me that we even have a union worth fighting for.
What we need Alecto to know is this:
We are here to stay.
We are not asking for handouts.
We work hard for you and want to continue to do so.
We will not sign a contract that takes away anything we have already fought for. No take aways!
You care about making profit and we care about Antelope Valley Hospital! Get to the table with something worth talking about and let’s negotiate! We are waiting.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The AV Times.
Editor’s note: Reymi Updike is one of hundreds of Antelope Valley Hospital (AVH) nurses who went on strike Wednesday, Sept. 28. The strike began at 7 a.m. and was expected to conclude at 6:59 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, according to the California Nurses Association, which represents approximately 1,000 RNs at AVH. Read more about the strike here.