Activists March for the Freedom to Form Unions

February 2009

RNs Deirdre Kirkwood, Minerva Aller-dela Fuente, Helen Bouman and Carol Westerman march for the rights of working people to form unions free from employer harassment

A little rain—ok, a downpour—did not dampen UNAC/UHCP activists’ enthusiasm for the freedom to form unions. More than 20 activists joined with hundreds of fellow union members on February 5 for a 10-mile march through Los Angeles in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

“I used to work at a hospital that didn’t have a union,” said Helen Bouman, RN, a UNAC/UHCP activist at Garden Grove Hospital. “The director was allowed to bully the employees. Until people see that, they don’t understand how important it is to have a union.”

The Employee Free Choice Act would create a fairer process for union organizing by establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations, providing mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes, and allowing employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.

UNAC/UHCP member Deirdre Kirkwood told  KPCC radio about her experience of getting fired for union organizing at Parkview Community Hospital. “It’s against federal law to fire someone for forming a union,” Kirkwood said. “But there’s not really much justice attached and that’s one reason why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.” Today, Kirkwood has a job at Kaiser Riverside, where doctors and managers work with—not against—union members on Unit Based Teams to improve efficiency and patient care.

In this economy, “workers have to look out for each other now more than ever,” said marcher Carol Westerman, RN, who works in the nursery at Fountain Valley Medical Center. “People need to be able to talk about issues freely.”

Greal Yumul was among the UNAC/UHCP nurses who staffed the medical van, tended to marchers’ blistered feet and headaches along the route. “As a nurse who is unionized, I know my job is secure,” said Yumul, who works at the Kaiser South Bay Emergency Room. “Everyone should have that security.”