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On the picket line

July 14, 2006 | Page 15

Portland Public Schools
Boston Children's Hospital

Cook County nurses
By Elizabeth Lalasz

CHICAGO--Registered nurses (RNs) at the Cook County Bureau of Health Services (CCBHS) approved a new contract in late June with significant improvements in pay and safety standards.

The contract covers 1,800 nurses at John Stroger Jr. Cook County Hospital, Provident Hospital, Oak Forest Hospital, more than 20 community clinics, the county jail and the juvenile detention center and is the first contract negotiated by the nurses' new union, National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurse Association (NNOC/CNA).

Over the course of the two-and-a-half year contract, nurses will receive a pay increase of 14.81 to 16 percent (not including additional increases for many based on years of service), improved overtime pay and a $500 one-time bonus. And for the first time, county nurses will have a Professional Practice Committee, a group of all-staff RNs elected by their co-workers with paid time off to meet with managers to address patient care issues, including safe patient-to-nurse ratios.

Another patient safety breakthrough was language added to the contract to reduce unsafe "floating"--assigning nurses to work in areas that they do not have appropriate training or experience in. The new contract also recognizes nurses as official patient advocates, and lunch and rest breaks were also restored.

RNs are "proud of this contract and what we have achieved here at CCBHS," said Brenda Freeman, a nurse midwife. "Our contract fight was about improving conditions for nurses and patient care here at CCBHS, and we will take that fight to RNs and their patients across Illinois."

After receiving an overwhelming 97 percent strike authorization vote from its membership, the local NNOC/CNA threatened to strike on both June 23 and June 30, which would have effectively shut down one of the largest public health care networks in the country for a day.

The county nurses left their previous union, the Illinois Nursing Association, in fall 2005 to join the NNOC/CNA. The NNOC/CNA is an example of what we need more of in the labor movement today--unions that are willing to fight and strike to get a good contract.

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Portland Public Schools
By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--Portland Public Schools (PPS) have been forced to rehire the 320 custodians, members of Service Employees International Union Local 140 they fired in 2002. An Oregon Supreme Court decision on October 13 last year ruled that PPS had violated civil service laws.

PPS issued a public statement on July 6 saying it had notified the custodians' representatives of the formal recall. This is an unconditional recall, which means that they could sue for lost wages and pension money.

The PPS school board has for a number of years made workers pay for the financial crisis that has plagued Portland schools. One year, teachers worked for 10 days without pay. Another year, the board "reconstituted"--in other words, moved to another school--the entire staff of Jefferson High School.

In 2002, the board contracted out the custodial work to a company that hired people with disabilities for wages far less than the workers represented by Local 140. Little was done at the time to save the workers' jobs, including any solidarity from the teachers' union. This decision paved the way for further attacks on teachers' pay and conditions.

It's unclear what will happen to the replacement workers who have been working there for the last four years.

In their quest for education on the cheap, the school board has cost the taxpayer more while displacing a second group of workers. They talk of achieving higher grades, but the school board deserves a resounding "F."

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Boston Children's Hospital
By Mike Schwartz and Amirah Goldberg

BOSTON--Some 70 people picketed outside Children's Hospital on June 19 to demand an explanation for the May 24 firing of three Latina workers.

Nicolasa Lopez and Ana Lamarche of Children's Hospital and Dr. Ana Ortiz from the Martha Elliot Health Center had been active in building recent protests for immigrants rights, and had also talked of forming a union.

Chanting in English and Spanish, picketers pointed out the hospital's lack of concern for workers and patients in the Latino and Black community.

Hospital administrators were so embarrassed by the picket, they were forced to release a letter to the entire staff asserting their commitment to diversity, justifying the firings with a need for "a change of leadership." Right after the picket, and after weeks of not even offering the women an apology, the hospital offered them a severance package.

The three activists chose to continue to organize around their case, rather than accept the hospital's compromise.

In recent weeks, it has been revealed that the three workers had all received perfect evaluations from their supervisors. It was also disclosed that Children's Hospital hired an anti-union consulting firm to prevent workers from organizing, which recommended firing the three.

A town hall meeting is being called for in three weeks to bring more attention to anti-worker Children's Hospital. We need reach out to the community members who stood up for immigrant workers' rights on May 1 and continue to build on the success of the recent picket.

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