Where We Stand

Fighting back and fighting forward for high-quality healthcare

By Randi Weingarten, AFT President

At the AFT 2014 Convention in Los Angeles this summer, the AFT Nurses and Health Professionals delegates showed the rest of us how to celebrate.

RNs, LPNs, respiratory therapists, social workers, hospital maintenance workers and more danced their way into the convention hall and jumped on stage as music blared and fireworks erupted on the big screen. The celebration marked the fact that last year’s affiliation of 34,000 registered nurses from the National Federation of Nurses pushed our membership over the 1.6 million mark—making AFT the second-largest nurses union in the nation.

It was a proud moment for me and our union as we stood united—bigger and stronger together and more determined than ever.

Of course, AFT Nurses and Health Professionals delegates did more than celebrate during the four days of inspiring and invigorating conversation, debate and solidarity. They laid the foundation for the work we will be doing over the next two years to transform the American healthcare system on the national, state and local levels by ensuring that our members have what they need to thrive—and deliver the affordable, high-quality care their patients deserve.

AFT delegates shaped this work by approving resolutions calling for safe staffing levels and efforts to reshape the healthcare industry to put patients before corporate profits, and by adopting a new name: AFT Nurses and Health Professionals.

This constitutional modification was followed by another important change—AFT’s mission was expanded to include our work to provide progressively better health and social service opportunities for all. As nurses and healthcare workers, this is a no-brainer; you all are passionate advocates for access to affordable, accessible care for every American in the work you do every day.

Decades of research has established the relationship between inadequate nurse staffing and unexpected hospital deaths or injuries, medical errors, complications and infections, readmissions, patient satisfaction, and burnout and turnover.

AFT delegates pledged to support state and federal laws setting minimum standards for the number of patients assigned to registered nurses for each hospital unit and shift, as well as laws to establish nurse staffing committees that would research, establish and review factors appropriate for increasing nurse staffing levels above required minimum levels.

Building on this need to ensure that all patients have access to the best caregivers, AFT delegates also approved a commitment to promote and support APRNs and nurse practitioners as key providers of primary healthcare—and will work to remove any barriers that prevent nurses and all healthcare professionals from practicing to the full extent of their educational preparation in every state.

Meanwhile, in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country, nurses are being laid off while hospital executives’ compensation increases at double-digit rates—even as studies show that CEO compensation is not tied to higher quality, better outcomes, or other factors that would benefit patients and communities.

AFT delegates pledged to create a national education and advocacy campaign to focus on reshaping the United States healthcare system “to serve the needs of communities and to truly put patients first,” while advocating for transparency in the healthcare industry.

These and other policies exemplify a commitment to solution-driven unionism that engages our members and strengthens our community partnerships.

As I emphasized in my convention address, we cannot sit back and let austerity mongers, hedge fund managers or our bosses change our healthcare system from one that cares about patients to one that cares only about profits. We must fight back and fight forward. And the first step is to vote this November.

Elections matter. They determine who nominates Supreme Court justices. We are one justice away from having a fairer court, or from losing more and more rights.

Elections matter. They determine whether our allies will have the votes they need to pass the legislation we’re fighting for in Connecticut to push back against privatization, or the safe-staffing bills we’re championing in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin—and at the federal level.

Elections matter. They mean the difference between a Dan Malloy and a Tom Foley in Connecticut, or a Tom Wolf and a Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, or a Mary Burke and a Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

This election, we have a chance to fight back against those who demonize, demoralize and aim to destroy us and to fight forward with a vision for a nation in which we reclaim the promise of high-quality healthcare—not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as it can be—to fulfill our collective responsibility to guarantee access to all.

And while we will never outspend our opponents, we will outwork and out-organize them—with your help.

I hope you will join me this fall as we knock on doors, make phone calls and spread the word as the trusted messengers in our communities that members of AFT Nurses and Healthcare Professionals are reclaiming the promise of America.

Healthwire, Spring 2014
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