On March 3, we attended a rally of over 2,000 people in support of Resurrection Health Care (RHC) workers’ right to organize. Senators Durbin, Obama, and Congresswoman Shakowsky, along with both national and local labor leaders, spoke up strongly for RHC workers. But most inspiring to us was the testimony of workers themselves, including one of the nurses from Oak Park’s West Suburban Medical Center, who are struggling to organize a union that would be part of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees). Employees told of intimidation and harassment by RHC management directed at any employee who begins to demonstrate an interest in creating an independent voice for workers or even raising a question about management treatment of workers. At West Sub, the fear of management retaliation is so severe that two employees who were concerned about patterns of discrimination in the housekeeping unit could only meet in a closet to talk.
Speakers linked the struggle of RHC workers to the need to make the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) the law of the land. EFCA passed the House of Representatives; now the Senate must pass it with a veto-proof majority. EFCA would allow workers in a workplace to create a union if more than half sign cards expressing their desire to do so.
Better working conditions benefit not only workers but also those of us who are potential patients. Oak Parkers should be concerned about ratios of staff (nurses, housekeepers, etc.) to patients that are below state guidelines. In addition, all of us should be alarmed that, in recent years, the Illinois Department of Public Health investigated seven of RHC’s nine hospitals and cited deficiencies in six because of concerns about the quality of health care provided. This is what happens when the bottom line subverts the mission of health care.
We urge RHC to realign its activities with its mission as a Catholic hospital. Rather than spend money to hire union-busting firms and produce glitzy brochures like the one we received recently, RHC should at least return to providing West Sub’s pre-RHC level of charity care. It should also actively explore ways in which the hospital can contribute to Oak Park’s commitment to diversity and to the growing national concern about access to quality health care. An important first step in this process would be for RHC’s management to honor the Second Vatican Council’s support for “the right of freely founding labor unions.” RHC executives should sit down and talk to, not attack, AFSCME and workers who are trying to organize.
John Bradley, Estelle Carol, Bob Simpson, Jerry Parker, Larry Spivack, Bill Barclay, Peg Strobel