“How are we going to translate today’s learning and our collective power into making a difference on behalf of the people we serve?” asked Anne Goldman, the UFT’s vice president for non-DOE members, at the 2018 Professional Issues Conference of the Federation of Nurses/UFT on Nov. 16.
For the 250 nurses who attended the conference at the Westin New York Grand Central, answering Goldman’s question was a major theme of the day. From workshops covering topics like the nurse and the law to a panel discussion on the politics of health care, the issue of health care advocacy and legislation was a thread that ran through the entire conference.
“There are people in Albany making laws about our profession, and it’s extremely important that we use our union voice to get involved in lobbying,” Howard Sandau, the NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn vice chapter chair, said during the panel.
“If you don’t have a seat at the legislative table, you might find yourself on the menu,” echoed Raquel Webb-Geddes, a Visiting Nurse Services chapter leader on the same panel.
The shift in power from Republicans to Democrats in the New York State Senate that occurred in the November midterm election has opened new possibilities, Goldman told the nurses, including a higher chance of success in their decades-long fight for legislation defining safe and appropriate staffing levels.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the crowd, “Election Day was one step in the right direction, but there’s still so much more to do.” He noted that the nurses’ mission to care for their patients is often at odds with that of their employers: “Your employers, in the end, want to make more money, and they do that by giving less care to patients.”
Both Mulgrew and Goldman stressed that the antidote to employers’ greed is patient advocacy.
“Health care is a business,” said Goldman. “But our union has the power to get our voice heard. You have to roll up your sleeves and come on in. What’s at stake is the care of everyone you care about.”
Nurses had the opportunity to attend two workshops. Many of the medical topics also had connections to health care advocacy: In a session on the opioid crisis, for instance, Oksana Bolson, a nurse practitioner at NYU Langone, said she was surprised to learn that many drug companies are owned by hedge funds.
“This is the first time I’m hearing of billionaires doing business with these medications,” she said.
Michael Kink, the executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition and the leader of the workshop, encouraged nurses to get involved in advocacy around the issue. “We need a public health response to this crisis and we need to go after the people who made money from this epidemic,” he said.
For nurses, the conference was an opportunity to connect with each other outside their busy workplaces.
“I like the atmosphere,” said Fatima Elbasri, a nurse at NYU Langone. “I like to be updated on what’s going on, and I know the union speaks on behalf of us.”
Kaila Anderson, another NYU Langone nurse, was attending for the first time after encouragement from other nurses in her unit.
“There are always issues in the workplace where it’s important to have support, to have somebody be there for us,” she said. “I feel secure knowing I have a union backing me up.”