Take their fight to SSM’s donors posh gala
By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
Inside the Four Seasons Hotel, the poshest of places in Downtown St. Louis, SSM Healthcare corporate leaders, philanthropists and bejeweled benefactors sipped “signature cocktails, premium wine pairings and ate spectacular food delicacies with a five-course dinner,” while recognizing their accomplishments in the community.
Outside, SSM-St. Louis University (SLU) nurses who work long hours with low pay, are short staffed and fighting to retain their union contact, stood in the rain distributing flyers, explaining SSM’s poor treatment of workers and money-grubbing operating tactics.
The nurses were joined by Missouri Jobs with Justice, representatives of unions and worker-friendly politicians and concerned citizens lining the street in front of the hotel to greet the greedy upper echelons of management and wealthy benefactors of the SSM Healthcare system.
While nurses and their supporters dealt with management’s efforts to move them away from the property, four “covert” protestors silently slipped into the gala, blending with the crowd as they place informational flyers from the National Nurses Organizing Committee, which represents the SLU nurses, on the dining tables explaining the nurses’ plight at the hospital.
FOCUSED ON BUSTING THE UNION
Just the day before, on Oct. 18, SSM-SLU Nurses beat a management-driven vote to decertify their union by a resounding 351-197, with 65 percent of nurses turning out to vote.
It couldn’t have pleased management 24 hours after losing their effort to decertify the union to see the union nurses and their supporters outside their gala.
“This was a huge success,” said Jenn Dean, organizer for National Nurses United. “The vote came after three weeks of nurses’ mandatory one-on-one anti-union meetings with SSM management, handwritten notes from them, and management spending an estimated 600 hours away from their jobs in an attempt to eliminate the union.”
National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United are calling out SLU Hospital for bargaining in bad faith and, in an unprecedented anti-union tactic, taking one of the nurses’ key bargaining demands – paid family leave – and instituting it at all their non-union hospitals but not SLU Hospital, offering to do so only if the nurses decertified their union.
Nurses at SLU Hospital organized in 2012, when Tenet Healthcare Corp. owned the hospital. They had one contract under Tenet and have had one under SSM. The SSM contract expired June.
“We have not had a contract for four months,” Dean said, “and we started bargaining well before the contract expired.”
Since then, the nurses say SSM Health has been acting like a greedy corporation, spending its time and resources to try to bust the union, rather than negotiating a fair contract.
Among the nurses demands, in addition to paid family leave, are safe staffing levels, workplace violence prevention and competitive pay.
Supporters joining in the protest included State Representative Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann), a candidate for re-election who serves on the Health and Mental Health Policy Committee and Subcommittee on Health Care Reform in the Missouri House.
“There’s a problem with the healthcare system in general,” Clemens said. “For a non-profit organization, there are some pretty high wages at the top.”
United Auto Workers Local 2250 member Scott Regna and few other UAW members, in the midst of their strike at General Motors, also turned out to support the nurses.
“I have learned from our own UAW strike that it’s nothing if we don’t stick together,” Regna said. “Everyone needs to come together to support each other when a union is having major work or contract issues. When the picket signs are out and the cars drive by and honk, it’s like a hug.”