The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Two-day USC Nurses Strike

Aug 2, 2021

On July 13 and 14, a total of 1,400 nurses at two USC hospitals (Keck Medicine at USC and Norris Cancer Center) went on strike in order to protest working conditions they say put both medical staff and hospital-goers at risk. These include severe understaffing, extremely long shifts, insufficient time between shifts and over-reliance on contract nurses, who have much less training and spend much less time in the hospital.

Nurses say they often work 18-hour shifts, or four to five shifts a week, to fill gaps in staffing levels, as opposed to the “normal” schedule of three shifts of twelve hours. “I get a call every week from my unit saying: ‘Please, can someone work; we’re short staffed,’” one nurse told the Los Angeles Times (July 14). It isn’t just a question of the nurses not having a life and working exhausted and sleep-deprived. It’s dangerous for the patients, especially since the two USC hospitals handle some of the most difficult and acute cases in the country.

Zeinoon Malaeb, a nurse in the cardiothoracic ICU, said that while the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed hospitals with patients, USC publicly called Keck nurses “heroes,” using images of the nurses in press releases in order to publicize the hospitals.

But, beneath the surface, Malaeb described how USC management took advantage of the crisis in order to carry out a series of attacks. “They cut our sick time by two thirds, and [management was] disciplining and firing nurses for taking sick time to take care of themselves or their loved ones,” he said. “They were calling us heroes, and at the same time, they cut our retirement benefits. They marketed the nurses to the public. And, in private, they were disciplining us and giving us breakdowns...

Nurses at several other hospitals have organized strikes over some of the same issues: understaffing and nurse and patient safety. In Massachusetts, St. Vincent Hospital nurses in Worcester have been on strike since March 8. Nurses at Stroger and Provident hospitals went on strike in late June.

Organizing together in order to fight is the only way that workers and employees have of defending their interests.