Storming the Capitol at the United Nurses of America Conference

May 2013

Blue and green scrubs and t-shirts were seen roaming the halls of our nation’s capitol in early May, when over three dozen UNAC/UHCP members sought out their Senators and Congress members to speak on behalf of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Our members were in Washington, D.C. to attend the United Nurses of America conference, or UNA, the organization of AFSCME-affiliated nurses unions from all over the country. UNAC/UHCP was honored before the delegates for organizing the most members last year of any UNA affiliate.

“It gave me a new perspective on how big the union is and how strong,” said Erica Mays, Case Manager, President-South of SCNSC and one of UNAC/UHCP’s newest members, who also  got to meet AFSCME President Lee Saunders. Over the course of five days, UNAC/UHCP members and prospective members gave a panel on Organizing; delegates attended workshops; and with the delegates from other unions, “We stormed the Capitol in a storm,” Mays said. “It was raining sideways.”

“This was our time to talk freely to our senators and congressmen and our voices were heard,” said Isaac Saroia, President of BHRNA at Beverly Hospital. Members visited the offices of California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. Senate was in session, so they made their case to senior staff members. Evelyn Marshall, President of KOVHCPA at Kaiser Ontario found the experience empowering. She made a very personal case for Medicaid by talking about her father who passed away six years ago, and survived his last ten years because of chemo dialysis covered by Medicaid. “Without Medicare and Social Security there are elderly folks living in poverty who could not survive at all,” said Evelyn.

Members split up to visit their own Congressional representatives. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County greeted delegates with, “AFSCME’s in the House!” Helen Bouman, President at Garden Grove, said, “She was 100% very down to earth. You could sit down and talk to her all day long.” Congress member Ken Calvert, though a Republican from Orange County, made himself late for an appointment by taking time to talk unhurriedly with the delegation.

RNs from Corona Hospital Jeannine Wakehouse and Marlyn Sali spoke on UNAC/UHCP’s organizing panel about how their hospital has blocked recognition of the union after they voted decisively to join in December. They were joined by members of Parkview, Beverly and our newest Kaiser members, who all faced obstacles of their own and won through to a contract. UNAC/UHCP always responded when they needed help, said Isaac Saroia of Beverly, with members joining their candlelight vigil and elected leaders pushing the hospital to agree to a contract with patient protections and nurses’ first raises in four years. Patient safety and other problems have improved. “I’ve always had a union, so I was outraged to see how unfair it was for these nurses,” Vena Stover, a Contract Specialist from Baldwin Park, said about volunteering to help organize last year. “But I felt I could really make a difference and help turn it around.”

Overall, UNAC/UHCP members found the UNA conference a great opportunity. “I probably would have never ever done this in my whole entire lifetime,” if not for the union, said Erica Mays. “You get an immense feeling when you actually step in there,” said Evelyn Marshall about being in the nation’s capitol. “I could have spent forever there,” said SPNN President Christina Magnusen.