WASHINGTON—The American Red Cross should “start living up to its reputation” and address safety issues that prompted nurses and donor collection assistants to go on strike at blood centers in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, the striking workers, labor leaders and supporters said at a rally at the American Red Cross national headquarters today.
Registered nurses and donor collection workers in the Red Cross’s Penn-Jersey Region went on strike May 24 after the Red Cross refused to discuss serious safety issues in contract negotiations.
The striking workers’ union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. AFT President Randi Weingarten joined 70 of the striking workers and hundreds of supporters at a rally outside the American Red Cross national headquarters.
“When nurses and other workers say there is a serious problem with the safety of the blood supply, the public expects the American Red Cross to pay attention and listen to them. It is unconscionable that the Red Cross would jeopardize the safety of the blood supply, the safety of blood donors and recipients, and the well-being of its healthcare workers,” Weingarten said.
According to the employees, issues at the Penn-Jersey regional Red Cross offices include inadequate and dangerous staffing levels, inconsistent training, equipment shortages and work schedules that often leave workers without enough rest between assignments at blood drives.
“Blood donors, recipients and workers must have complete confidence that there are no safety issues. We are fighting for conditions that protect the safety of everyone involved and the blood itself,” said Renee Conyers, a donor collection assistant and a co-president of HPAE Local 5103.
The American Red Cross has been fined $37 million by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for repeated safety violations since 2003. In 2009, the Red Cross Penn-Jersey Region was fined $2.9 million.
“Sadly, the fines don’t seem to bother the Red Cross, but they bother those who work for the Red Cross and the community at large,” Weingarten said.
HPAE released a new report at the rally detailing recurring noncompliance with safety practices at Red Cross blood collection sites in the Penn-Jersey Region and elsewhere around the country.
“We respect the vital role that the Red Cross plays in providing humanitarian and disaster assistance,” Weingarten said. “We are simply saying that it must operate its $2 billion-a-year blood supply business with the same concern for human safety that guides its emergency response activities.”
A report on the Red Cross’s safety problems can be found at: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/press/wp_RedCrossHPAE_0611.pdf