On Oct. 7, the White House is holding a summit with leaders in the various movements to improve the lives of working people across the country, with a focus on how to make sure that economic growth is broad-based and that workers share in the benefits they help create with their labor. Until the summit begins, we'll be highlighting the stories of workers and their struggle to make sure their voices are heard on the job.
Today, we take a look at Allysha Almada. When workers go above and beyond the call of duty to save lives, they don't expect to lose their jobs, in fact, saving lives is what registered nurses do every day. That's why Allysha Almada decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and become an RN at the hospital where she was born, Huntington Memorial in Pasadena, Calif.
Over the past few years, Allysha and her colleagues at Huntington have been speaking out about eroding patient care conditions, including chronic short staffing and inadequate supplies. "To cut expenses, the hospital began rationing supplies, like bed linens and patient gowns," said Allysha.
Many of our patients in the ICU have very compromised immune systems so the risk of infection is very high. Also their conditions and the meds they are on often lead to diarrhea. It is absolutely essential that we have adequate supplies of clean linens, yet the hospital is intent on limiting these basic necessities.
The nurses began to organize for union representation with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU), so that they could strengthen their collective voice as patient advocates. However, as is seen all too often when workers seek a collective voice to protect their communities or improve their own rights and conditions, management responded with a vicious, anti-union campaign, a reminder of how labor law today remains heavily slanted against workers.
Allysha became more visible in this effort, appearing in an ad on public buses running throughout the San Gabriel Valley and courageously speaking out at a public forum and a press conference on the need to improve conditions at the hospital, joined by many local elected officials and many community supporters, especially from faith leaders and labor allies who supported the nurses' right to organize. Huntington management retaliated by firing Allysha and another co-worker who was involved in organizing workers at the hospital. Meanwhile, conditions at the hospital continued to decline; recently, federal officials are investigating a suspected outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant "superbug" and have continued to examine patient care conditions in multiple units throughout Huntington Hospital.
Almada worked in the Huntington ICU for nearly five years and understands the reason for her dismissal:
I put my whole soul into caring for my patients, and management knows this. “I’ve worked as a nurse educator, sat on a committee of nurse leaders who bring patient care concerns to management; I have special training in trauma and open heart. I care deeply about providing the best possible care, and that’s exactly why I spoke up at the panel—to help ensure that RNs are supported in providing top-quality, safe care. The next thing I knew, I was being fired. They are trying to silence nurses. This is intimidation—and it’s wrong.
Vicki Lin, a two-year veteran of the ICU, also was fired. "On my last annual review, I was rated 98 out of 100," Lin said. "It just doesn't make sense to let go of nurses who are doing good work—simply because we want to exercise our federal right to work collectively in the best interest of our patients."
The CNA/NNU has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board challenging the dismissal as unlawful.
Meanwhile, Almada has continued to meet with elected officials and community leaders about her and other nurses' efforts to organize and hold management accountable for patient safety. Ultimately, her top priority is still her patients: “We just want to be back to work, caring for our patients,” Almada said. “Our focus has always been on care, and it always will be. We only ask management to have that same priority.”