On Labor Day, Asian American nurses, health workers raise their voices for justice
It is the nature of a health care worker’s heart to help others heal and to usher in wellness. This Labor Day, Asian American nurses and healthcare workers are hosting events across our nation that highlight the power of working people to take on what’s ailing our communities and to call for healing.
Nurses and other health care workers who represent the Service Employees International Union will decry economic, racial, environmental, health care and immigration injustice.
Labor Day is a perfect time to recognize the advances that working people together in a union can win together; it’s also a day to think about how we can take on the challenges right in front of us.
For example, in Rochester, Minnesota, nurses and health care workers are using the holiday to launch CURE – Communities United for Rochester Empowerment. CURE is dedicated to building power for working people in Rochester so they can fight for economic justice and corporate accountability. In Boston, nurses and other health care workers will march for racial justice and for the wage floor to be raised to $15 an hour.
These are just a few of the events taking place on Labor Day. By combining our voices for fair wages and working conditions, we are working to improve jobs and pay for all workers. Approximately 64 million Americans — about 42 percent — earn less than $15 an hour. Justina Cioffi, an RN from South Florida, says that is why our nation needs unions.
“Working in South Florida, where the state has weakened the voices of workers and cut wages through so-called ‘Right to Work’ laws, makes it even more important for nurses to stick together in a union. As members of a union, we have a say when it comes to salary, health benefits, patient ratios, and patient care. It’s a strength and a voice that I bring to my workplace. We are also fighting for workers’ right to organize a union, and for a $15 wage for all workers, including healthcare workers. Everyone should be able to afford healthcare for themselves and their families.”
Justina is right. After all, how can a community be well, if its health care givers are not?
I am Secretary-Treasurer of 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East, and I am proud to be part of a union that cares about equality for all. We believe workers should have a right to organize without retaliation such as the 24 dialysis workers — who are mostly Asian Pacific Islanders — who were fired or disciplined for organizing and advocating for safe staffing levels for their patients in dialysis centers.
A large part of our union’s focus is ensuring fair working conditions and wages for nurses, and other health care workers; but we don’t only advocate for living wages and worker protections. We also fight for equal access to quality, affordable health care for all, including health care workers and their families. When workers are healthy, and paid enough so that they do not have to choose between putting gas in their car or paying the electricity bill, everyone benefits.
America’s nurses, along with health care workers such as doctors, home care workers, and nursing home workers, are on the front lines every day delivering essential care to patients and consumers. Health care is one of the fastest growing industries in America, but the irony is that it’s one of the lowest paid. Home care, for example, is the most in-demand profession in the country due to our growing aging population—but workers are paid an average annual salary of just $13,300.
This is not acceptable, and these are the types of injustices we fight against. Everyone, regardless of the industry they work in, should be paid a living wage that allows them to take care of their family, and everyone should have access to healthcare.
Fairness transcends the borders of labor, and the health care industry, and spills onto the streets of our communities across the country. As Justina says, “We have to value our differences; we are stronger because of our differences.” I agree with her. Our differences are what make America so great.
Not all of us can take off on Labor Day. Wherever you are, I hope you will join me in taking a moment to remember the individuals in your path who need help and healing from some type of injustice. When we stand shoulder to shoulder, we bring lasting change.
We are in this together.
Maria Castaneda is the Secretary-Treasurer of 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East, and President of SEIU Asian Pacific Islanders Caucus.