Are nurse unions using the H1N1 flu pandemic as a bargaining ploy?

Only in the United States could a virus like H1N1 bring out the worst in medical politics and greed. We are facing a pandemic that requires coordination, communication and the best of medical practice. But what are we getting? Strikes, lawsuits and anything but putting patients first.

The California Nurse Association (CNA), is taking this opportunity to call a strike on three large Catholic hospital chains (which comprise a total of 34 hospitals) throughout California and Nevada. The union bosses say the chief concerns are a lack of protective gear, improper isolation techniques and staffing that requires nurses to work 12-hour shifts during the flu crisis.

Although the nurses seem to want to walk out during a pandemic to “protect patients,” nurses in New York and Washington also filed a lawsuit over the idea that they should be required to get the flu vaccine.

You can’t have it both ways, nurses. You either want protection or you don’t.

This is an obvious smokescreen for contract negotiations, not H1N1 preparedness. Coincidentally, the CNA is in negotiations now with Catholic Healthcare West. Since nurses in California already earn more than many physicians, this type of bargaining rhetoric exposes an somewhat unseemly side of nursing.

Most nurses in California hospitals work part time and receive full benefits. At a time when unemployment is at an all time high, nurses are receiving up to six percent pay raises due to union bargaining.

I respect nurses and believe in true collaboration for patient care, but as we prepare for flu season, this type of unprofessional, opportunistic behavior needs to be called out for what it is.

Tony Brayer is an internal medicine physician who blogs at EverythingHealth.

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