Justice for Healthcare Workers
BDN Op Ed on Declaration7/6/2006
In his book "May Day", Philip s. Foner writes, “In the United States for many generations, the Fourth of July was celebrated by labor as its day. The practice began in the 1790s, when the first trade unions of shoemakers, printers, carpenters, and other crafts joined officially with the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican societies in the community, and drank toasts to ‘The Fourth of July, may it prove a momento to the oppressed to rise and assert its rights.’
By the 1820s and 1830s the Fourth of July had become fixed as the working-class day of celebrations. It was a day of parades, banquets, and festivals – a day for renewing the Spirit of ’76, for drawing up the demands of the working class, for presenting new declarations of independence which would serve to finish ‘the unfinished work’ of the American Revolution. It was a day for toasts: “The Working Men – the legitimate children of ’76; their sires left them the legacy of freedom and equality. They are now of age, and are laboring to guarantee the principles of the Revolution.”
In the spirit of “presenting new declarations” workers at Eastern Maine Medical Center who are building a second union at the hospital decided to reflect on the U.S. Declaration and develop our own declaration which would do our part (albeit a small one) to address the ‘unfinished work’ of the American Revolution.
(The full text of our declaration is at justice.goiam.org)
The first part of our declaration looks to the Eastern Maine community as the true owners of Eastern Maine Medical Center. We know that all healthcare workers play crucial roles at the hospital and as such have “certain inalienable rights that among these are fairness, respect and a voice at work.”
We see a union as the only vehicle which gives us both democracy and due process at work. For only with a union can we elect representatives and only through a union contract can we establish consistent and mutually enforceable policies that give workers due process and a voice at work. Just like the revolution transformed us from “subjects to citizens” in the political sphere, a union transforms servants into citizens at work.
Our union is, first and foremost, pro-worker, pro-patients, pro-hospital and pro-healthcare- not anti-management- as we all have important roles to play in our healthcare system. Put simply, our union is about self-respect.
Further, most problems occur more through improper checks and balances, where one person’s concern is heard more loudly than others. We believe that real ownership and job satisfaction occurs when workers have a democratic voice at work, so that relations are mature, healthy and natural among equals, as opposed to a parent and child, or master and servant relationship. Not to lay blame, but rather to illustrate the results of an unhealthy, top-down relationship common without a union, here are a few examples:
· Some in management have told us that if we don’t like something about our jobs, we should find a job elsewhere, as if we had no stake in our job, had not put years of time and sacrifice into it.
· In order to gain quality new-hires, which we agree is a concern due to understaffing, new hires have been given up to $3.00 more an hour to do the exact same work as senior employees. To add insult to injury, we are required to take on the added responsibility of training new-hires, without training pay.
· At times it appears that they have managed our community-owned, nonprofit hospital in manner that makes it less of a health care system and more of a health care industry.
· They tried to use $150 million to build a 4th hospital in Waterville, without any consultation with us workers, rather than invest in better patient care and fairer pay for those who do the work.
· They have adopted attendance policies, which penalize us for being sick or caring for our loved ones.
· They have enacted overly rigid time clock policies.
· They tell us not to work off the clock, but it is widely expected of us to do it nevertheless.
· They have spent time and money on expensive anti-union attorneys who specialize in misinformation and create division about unionization-all of which ultimately hurts patient care.
Numerous times we have spoken to management individually and as groups about fixing the problems at work. We have filled out surveys with little or no response. We have been told repeatedly and in writing that we are “at will” employees with no just cause rights, no due process rights, subject to the whims of management.
We recognize that only through a union can we become citizens as opposed to servants. Our union is a self-affirmation of our rights as humans and as workers to have a respected, protected, democratic voice at work.
We have faith in the democratic process. We have faith in ourselves to advocate for issues that will better employee relations, patient care and ultimately our hospital as a whole.
We ask the community to listen to us “worker bees” who make the hospital run through cooking, cleaning, answering phones, assisting nurses and doctors and doing all the work that must happen on a daily basis for our hospital to run smoothly.
It is faith in the people that lays at the core of our democracy and faith in EMMC workers will give rise to our union, which in turn will provide long-run benefits to our community, our hospital and to our patients just as democracy has done for America.
Marylee MacDonald is a unit secretary in the Rehabilitation department at EMMC. The workers Declaration of Independence will be read at the 6th annual July 4th Solidarity Celebration, 20 Ivers Street in Brewer. The event, open to the public, starts at 6:00 pm. For more information, please call 989-4141.