What Are The Healthcare Workers Striking Over?

by Arcelita Imasa

I see many of my fellow Filipinos who work in the healthcare field are going on strike. What are the issues they are striking over?
– From Reader

Dear Reader,

That is a great question. The Philippines is the largest exporter of nurses and caregivers in the world. In the United States, one-third of all foreign nurses are from the Philippines. While Filipino nurses comprise 4% of all nurses in the US workforce, a whopping 31.5% died of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic.

Seven out of 10 nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have reported they are “burned out” for long hours, double shifts, no breaks, and caring for more patients than is safe.

Filipino nurses and Filipino CNAs disproportionately work in highly acute care areas such as Intensive Care Units or Emergency Rooms or in long-term care facilities that have had very high COVID-19 infection rates. This is certainly much of the reason why so many Filipinos in healthcare have died and why nurses and CNAs struggle for better wages, patient-to-staff ratios, and other working conditions.

Recently, nurses and CNAs at the Oahu Care Facility (OCF) in Honolulu, represented by the Hawaii Nurses Association went on a seven-day strike.

They have been working without a contract since February. They are among the lowest-paid nurses and CNAs in the state. CNAs throughout Hawaii average $20 per hour but at the OCF they earn a meager $14.95 per hour. And, nurses earn about $33.00 compared to their counterparts who earn in the mid $40 per hour.

They also want better patient-to-staff ratios to ensure better care for their patients. One picketing CNA carried a sign saying “Safety Over Profit.” They are forced to work mandatory overtime even when exhausted or need time with their families. Frankly, as one nurse said, “We have reached our limit, and must stand up for our patients and ourselves.”Also, this year, therapists and social workers employed by Kaiser Permanente on Oahu went on strike. A key issue was that they wanted Kaiser to hire more therapists. Kaiser Permanente members were waiting 3 months or more for a mental-health appointment with therapists working long, grueling hours.

After a long strike by their union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, they won a new contract and better staffing ratios.

During COVID we clapped for health care workers and called them “heroes.” Now they are justly asking for what they really need.

The Hawaii Workers Center supports the nurses and CNAs at OCF (whose workforce is predominantly Filipino) as they press for better wages, better working conditions, and patient care.

If you’re looking for ways to support our striking healthcare professionals, send your questions to hiworkerscenter@gmail.com. We will be happy to address them in a future column.

Thank you,
Hawaii Workers Center

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