Bernie Backs Covid Nurses Who Are Prepared to Strike for Humane Work Conditions


Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders. (Susan Walsh / Getty Images)

When Bernie Sanders weighs in on behalf of workers, it’s a big deal—for the workers and for our understanding of the workplace issues his interventions highlight.

That’s what happened this week when the Senate Budget Committee chairman leveraged his considerable presence on social media to support Wisconsin nurses who are prepared to strike in order to win a contract that “supports nurses who have worked on the frontlines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.” The message from Sanders was loud and clear.

“I stand with nurses in Madison, Wisconsin, who are demanding a safe work environment and paid sick leave,” he announced. “They are on the frontlines in our fight against COVID-19. We must treat them like the heroes they are.”

Sanders focused on the Madison fight because of his concern for nurses not just in Wisconsin but nationally. As Americans are being vaccinated and governors speak of getting “back to normal,” unions that represent nurses and other health care workers are pointing out that their members have been through hell. They’re seeking new contracts that recognize and respect the sacrifices made during the pandemic. And, yes, they are talking about striking if it is necessary to secure those contracts.

“Nursing and public health experts warn that without adequate support, large numbers of frontline healthcare workers will likely experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological consequences from the stress of responding to the pandemic,” explains SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, the union that represents more than 850 nurses at the UnityPoint Health-Meriter Hospital in Madison. With a boost from Sanders, along with other elected officials, these nurses say they are prepared to strike “to ensure nurses can take care of themselves and their patients, heal and recover after a traumatic year, and be valued and respected for their essential work.”

As a mayor, a member of the House and Senate, and a presidential candidate, Sanders established a record of standing with unions. And he has been doing a lot of it since the pandemic arose: demanding the protections for workers be included in relief bills, championing union-backed drives for a $15 wage, and signaling support for RWDSU’s organizing drive at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala.

But the senator’s message with regard to the struggle of the nurses in Madison turns up the volume in two important ways:

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