"After their 14th or 15th hour on the job, nurses are questioning
their judgment," says Mary Robinson, a nurse for 30 years. Robinson
is one of 600 nurses in Flint who've been on strike since November
8 against mandatory overtime. The strikers say that at McLaren Regional
Medical Center, Flint's premier hospital, it's not unusual for management
to schedule RNs for 16-hour days. Robinson, for example, works 3
p.m. to 11:30 p.m. in the recovery room but may have to stay another
eight hours. "We can then be expected to be back the next day at
3 p.m.," she says.
At New York's Nyack Hospital, nurses walked the picket line for
151 days last winter. RN Mary Louise Cahill says that when a nurse
filed a grievance for being forced to work two shifts in a row,
"they told her every time she came to work, she should be prepared
The Flint and Nyack strikes are part of a wave of resistance to
the long hours that
nurses say threaten patient well-being. About 16 percent of U.S. nurses
belong to unions. "All the studies show that once you've gone through
10 hours, you've lost your edge," says Kay McVay, president of the
31,000-member California Nurses
Association (CNA). "In this industry if you're tired and you make
a mistake, it can mean a life."
Nurses and Autoworkers walk
the picket line in Flint, Michigan.
PHIL HELMS/COURTESY OF MICHIGAN
In Massachusetts, the Board of Registration in Nursing has issued
an advisory that refusal to work overtime will not be considered
a charge that can cost a nurse her license. This removes one threat
from hospital managers' inventory of tactics for coercing nurses
to work more.
The American Nurses Association
(ANA) has issued a consumer alert about hospitals' growing tendency
to use mandatory overtime as a normal staffing mechanism. It's part
of the "lean workplace" creed: Management tries to match staffing
levels to a fluctuating patient census. Paying overtime is cheaper
than hiring more staff because of the cost of benefits.
Suzanne Gordon, co-author of From Silence to Voice: What Nurses
Know and Must Communicate to the Public, says that nurses are
working harder every hour they're on the floor. Because insurance
companies and HMOs have cut back on reimbursements, patient stays
are shorter and patients' needs are more acute. With shorter stays,
a unit may experience a 40 percent patient turnover in 24 hours--and
the work is front-loaded for each stay. "It's not that management
is saying to a nurse with four patients 'you have to work 12 hours,'
" Gordon says. "It's a nurse with 14 patients."
News Flash Update:
Nurses settle strike with McLaren!
Visit AFSCME Local 875 website: www.afscme875.org.