President’s Message – September 2012
UNAC/UHCP turned 40 this year. It's a good time to reflect with pride on what we've built, and be grateful for what others achieved who came before us. Just to win the right to form a union took decades of struggle, even lives lost. And less than a hundred years ago nurses worked 12 hours shifts seven days a week. Paid vacation and safe staffing were beyond imagining.
Closer to home, Kathy Sackman and others at Kaiser Fontana had already organized—into CNA. But after almost a year of no help, they pulled out, and in May 1972, 40 nurses from Fontana, Balboa, and Los Alamitos created UNAC to represent themselves. By June, we had 117 dues-paying members and $250 in the bank. Our first convention in 1974 at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim had thirty eight delegates. This year's convention will host nearly 700.
Nothing we've won was just given to us. We fought for ten years to organize an all RN unit at St. Francis. It took only a five year court fight to organize medical professionals at Fountain Valley. In 1996, Sharp RNs won the largest private sector RN union election in history to form SPNN in San Diego. Within months of my joining Kaiser in 1979, I was walking a picket line with 800 other RNs. I grew up Union—my dad was a Pittsburgh steel worker—so I was ready to do what it took to win equal pay in the clinics. And that was the last time UNAC/UHCP had to strike--though we've come close since. In 1997 we helped found the historic Labor-Management Partnership at Kaiser, proving that a strong worker voice only makes an organization stronger.
While we can reflect and be grateful, we can't rest. Not only has UNAC/UHCP and every other labor union struggled for every gain we've achieved—we struggle every day to hold onto those gains. There's nothing on our list of victories that couldn't be lost. A close look at Proposition 32 will tell you that's the plan: cut us off at the knees, gag us, then take it all back. First up would be our collective bargaining rights. How long after that before safe staffing would come under attack? In honor of our forty year legacy, we cannot let that happen.
Ken Deitz, RN