Nurses lead fight for health care for all in CA

The California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Nurses United (NNU) called for rallies and demonstrations to protest a decision by the Speaker of the California State Assembly that could kill a bill that would guarantee health care coverage to all Californians.

SB 562, The Healthy California Act, would establish a single payer health insurance program similar to the federal Medicare program, except that it would provide health insurance to all Californians, not just seniors.

On Friday, June 23, Speaker Anthony Rendon announced that he would not permit the Assembly to consider the bill, which the state Senate passed on June 1.

Deborah Burger, president of CNA and co-president of NNU, condemned Speaker Rendon for acting in secret to protect insurance companies and jeopardizing health care for many Californians who could lose health care coverage if the Republican Congress and President Trump are successful in their efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

“The people of California are counting on the legislature to protect them now, not sometime next year, and as polls have shown Californians support this proposal by a wide majority,” said Burger.

President Trump and the Republican Congress have been working hard to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As Congress gets ready to adjourn for its July 4 recess, Republicans in the Senate are just a few votes short of the votes needed to pass the Senate version of the Obamacare repeal bill.

If their bill passes, 22 million fewer Americans will have health care insurance by 2026. As many as 2.4 million fewer Californians will have health care coverage.

In California, CNA, NNU, and a coalition of 350 groups called Healthy California aren’t waiting for the Republican hammer to drop on health care.

They’re organizing and fighting for the Healthy California Act.

Earlier in the year, members of the nurses union and other supporters of guaranteed health care for all canvassed neighborhoods to build grassroots support for state legislation that will protect Californians from the health care cuts looming in Washington DC.

These efforts led to a mass base of support for the Healthy California Act.

A recent poll commissioned by CNA found that 70 percent of Californians now support a single payer health care plan like the one proposed in the Healthy California Act.

As a result of the grassroots organizing and popular support for a single payer plan, the Senate passed the Healthy California Act by a vote of 23-14.

After the Senate passed the bill, the insurance lobby stepped up its efforts to prevent passage of the Healthy California Act in the Assembly.

Their pitch is that California can’t afford to guarantee health care for all Californians.

But a recent report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that the state would actually save money by implementing the Healthy California Act.

“Enacting a single-payer system would yield considerable savings overall by lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of pharmaceuticals and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments, and expanding preventive care,” wrote Robert Pollin, one of the authors of the report in an opinion piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. “We found that Healthy California could ultimately result in savings of about 18 percent, bringing health care spending to about $331 billion, or 8% less than the current $370 billion.”

After Speaker Rendon announced that he would not permit the Assembly to consider the Healthy California Act, the nurses union and Healthy California called on supporters to rally at Speaker Rendon’s Los Angeles office on June 27.

Hundreds of people did so and marched into his office to present the Speaker with personal notes describing why they and other Californians needed heath care for all.

Another demonstration supporting the Healthy California Act is scheduled for Wednesday, June 28 in Sacramento, the state capital.

Burger said that the fight for health care for all in California is not over.

“Thousands of Californians have been in motion for guaranteed health care. They are not finished,” said Burger.

UC workers take strike vote to stop pay cuts and employer intimidation

AFSCME Local 3299  announced that 96 percent of its members voted to authorize another unfair labor practices strike against the University of California, which imposed a pay and benefits cut on 21,000 Local 3299 members at UC’s ten campuses and five medical centers.

In September the California Public Employment Board issued a complaint against UC for intimidating workers before, during, and after a previous unfair labor practices strike.

“Our membership stands united for a workplace that is free of illegal intimidation against employees who stand up for the safety of the students and patients they serve,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “We believe UC should be held accountable for their serial law breaking.”

The results of the strike authorization vote, which took place between October 28 and 30 were announced on November 1. .

In July, UC imposed terms of a new contract on 13,000 patient care technical workers at UC’s five medical centers who belong to Local 3299. The imposed terms froze pay for four years and increased worker pension contributions and health care premiums, which in effect reduced workers’ take home pay. The imposed terms also reduced future retiree health care benefits for some workers, added another tier of pension benefits, and did not address safe staffing level concerns raised by workers.

In September, UC did the same thing to 8,000 maintenance, landscaping, custodial, and food service workers at UC’ s ten academic campuses.

Lybarger said that UC’s cuts fall hardest on workers who can least afford them. Average pay for the affected workers at the 10 UC campuses is $35,000 a year and if their UC wages were their only income, 99 percent of them would be eligible for some form of public assistance.

During a UC Regents meeting, Local 3299 members described what it was like to live on the wages that UC pays.

“I’ve been working full time at UC for 33 years,” said Eugene Stokes, a 53 year-old senior building maintenance worker at UC Berkeley. “I work another job to try and make ends meet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire. Yesterday, I had to choose between paying the mortgage, or helping my daughter with her tuition. On other days, that choice is between medicine and food.”

While UC is demanding sacrifices from its lowest paid workers, it continues to lavish its highest paid staff with excessive salaries and benefits.

According to Local 3299, nearly 700 of UC’s executives and other highly paid staff have salaries higher than the President of the United States and this year received a 3 percent pay raise.

“Today, UC is being transformed into a symbol of the widening income gap that is condemning growing numbers of Americans to a life of poverty,” said Lybarger. “Taking from UC’s lowest paid, full time workers in order to line the pockets of UC executives is not just an attack on collective bargaining—it’s an assault on basic morality.”

In May, workers at UC medical centers tried to put a stop to this growing level of inequality by voting for and participating in a two-day unfair labor practices strike.

UC, according to the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), retaliated with threats and coercion.

The PERB in a complaint issued in September charged UC with using threats to dissuade workers from participating in the legal strike, threatening workers with adverse action during the strike, and punishing workers who participated in the strike.

In September, UC imposed the same pay cut and benefit reductions on Local 3299 members at UC academic campuses, which led union members to vote for another unfair labor practices strike.

The strike was postponed when UC’s chief negotiator requested that bargaining between the two sides resume and told the union that UC had a new proposal on retirement, wages, and other issues.

Local 3299 responded that the union was willing to restart talks but noted that UC had done nothing to address the intimidation and coercion charges described in the PERB complaint, which led the union to call for the most recent strike vote.

Meanwhile, members of the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 and the California Nurses Association who work for UC held a statewide Unity Day on November 1.

Members of the two unions are facing the same take aways imposed on Local 3299 members.

During Unity Day, UPTE and CNA members will staff information tables at work locations throughout the state, answer questions about the bargaining that is currently underway, and urge members to sign a strike pledge.

“UC is holding wage increases hostage to try to get us to give up on our retirement benefits,” reads the opening sentence of the strike pledge. “Despite four years of budget increases at UC, $500 million in profits at the med centers, and executives making more than ever, UC negotiators want to turn back the clock decades, with historic cuts to our retirement. This is a priority crisis, not a budget crisis.”