We're Not Backing Down

Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, Rally for National Nurses Union at Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC

March 04, 2011

Thank you, nurses, for your dedication and your guts!  Thank you! Like our brothers and sisters in Madison and Cleveland and Indianapolis and a hundred other cities across America, you are standing up and standing together, side by side, for our common dreams. 

You're standing up for all of America's working families, and you're standing up for our children and grandchildren. 

I love the way you fight for patients, for quality care. For safe staffing and decent working conditions.  I'm glad for the opportunity to join you. 

Your strike today is powerful.  It's important to Washington, and it's important to everybody who seeks health care in America, and everyone who earns a paycheck. 

Together you have power, and that's why MedStar has tried to silence you. That's why you've been threatened with a five-day lockout! MedStar executives want to scare you into silence. They want you to be quiet about nurse-to-patient ratios. They want you to be quiet about your ideas to improve patient health and safety. They want you to be quiet. 

But you won't be quiet, will you? 

No, you won't be silenced. You won't lower your standards, because one night two weeks ago, only two nurses were scheduled to work in Labor and Delivery. Two nurses! That night, each nurse carried a patient load of six women who were delivering babies. That means each nurse cared for 12 patients. Six moms and six newborns! That's too many. Thank God there were no emergencies. 

Why were only two nurses scheduled? Is MedStar out of money? No! Last year MedStar banked $142 million dollars in profits, and the company holds $1.5 billion in cash reserves. That's billion with a B. 

No. Hospital executives just thought two would do. Two is cheaper than three. Without your voice, two nurses would be scheduled in Labor and Delivery, until there was an emergency,  until something went terribly wrong, until a tragedy occurred, and that's not OK. 

Instead of paying attention to patient health, MedStar CEO Ken Samet and Washington Hospital president John Sullivan are putting profits ahead of everything. They want to cut safety. They want to cut pay. They've told you that your wages should drop, because the recession brought down the price of nurses. 

To them, you're just a commodity, like soybeans or oil.

What about the price of a CEO? Last year, five of the top 20 highest paid hospital CEOs in the country were from MedStar! 

The words and actions of MedStar executives are unconscionable. They enjoy rich profits—earned from the patients and the care you deliver.  They grant themselves outrageous salaries and bonuses, and then turn around and want to cut the care you can deliver – to cut your wages. 

That's wrong. And yet, MedStar's not alone. This is business as usual for too many corporate CEOs across America. 

The truth is, there is no cut deep enough, no bonus big enough, to satisfy the greed in their hearts. 

Well, we're done with that kind of business as usual. And we won't back down. 

But that's easier said than done. I want to acknowledge how hard it is to say no to a bad contract. I've been there. Giving up a paycheck, risking a lockout is not easy. 

I want to salute you for standing up, for not backing down.  For standing up for good health care across America.  For nurses and other working people across our great country.  On behalf of the 12 million members of the AFL-CIO, I want to say thank you. 

It's like what our brothers and sisters are doing across the Midwest and in cities and towns nationwide. They're standing up to the corporate CEO agenda that's bent on beating down America, on trampling on our middle class and on turning us into a nation of haves and have-nots. 

We can't cut our way out of this economic slowdown. We've got to build our way out, and we've got our work cut out for us. Standing up is just the beginning. 

But we're not backing down—and I know you won't either. 

We're stronger together. I want you to know, you are all my sisters and brothers. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you. The AFL-CIO will stand shoulder to shoulder with you, whatever you need. 

Standing together.  Fighting together.  That's how we'll beat back the corporate agenda. You'll improve patient care—the care you became nurses to deliver. You'll maintain high nursing standards. And you'll set a benchmark for working people everywhere. 

And I can promise you this:  We won't back down. 

Thank you all, and God bless you and the work you do.

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