Photo credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times
By Serran Soledad
In the wake of a 10 day strike-notice issued on December 14 by nurses and healthcare workers across three southern California Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) hospitals, the SEIU 121 RN union representing them has come to an agreement with the hospitals, averting the strike set to begin on Christmas Eve, in exchange for the hospitals agreeing to meet a list of Covid-19 provisions.
The strike-notice is a part of an increase in healthcare worker strikes across the country this year, setting a precedent for the 18 million healthcare workers in the US, many of whom are on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic, facing hazardous work conditions contributing to the death of over 1,700 healthcare workers.
Celebrated as a huge win for the nurses and healthcare workers by the SEIU local in their most recent press release, the agreement boasts a list of provisions and accommodations won through negotiations following the threat of a strike.
One of the most celebrated concessions listed by SEIU 121 RN is “the guarantee to immediately sit down to discuss and bargain over the hospitals’ planned response within two weeks of a declared public health emergency.” Another listed guarantee is “in the event of a public health emergency, the hospitals will provide all PPE as required by laws and regulations.”
These concessions are only victories for yellow unions like the SEIU. The boss agreeing to obey the law does not change the economic and political contradiction between the workers and HCA, a company with an annual profit of more than $50 billion and whose CEO Samuel Hazen is worth an estimated $132 million.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic is currently at its worst in the state of California, a possible end of the health crisis is in sight as vaccinations have begun on the basis of employment and risk analysis, with front line healthcare workers set to be some of the first to receive the vaccine.
Despite this, the antagonistic relationship between healthcare workers and companies like HCA will continue, because it is one that is rooted in exploitation as the imperialist crisis deepends. As long as unions like SEIU are free to act as mediators, suppressing the anger of workers ready to strike, then US imperialism can get away with economic concessions as it guards its hold on power.