Stepping back a bit in time here: This is from the Washington Hospital Center nurses’ strike in May–June 1978. I’ve got several shirts from events, causes, and groups that I was at most peripherally involved in, and this is one of them. The strike went on for 31 days, so I might have joined the picket line once or twice, though this seems unlikely: I didn’t have a car and I did have a 9-to-5 job. I might have known someone who worked there, or I might just have wanted to support the strikers by wearing the shirt. In the women’s community we showed up for each other’s rallies, events, picket lines, meetings — if it involved women fighting for justice, we helped pass the word and mobilize support.

This graphic might have been the reason I got the shirt: I love it. The small print says “whc nurses strike 1978.”

A Washington Post story from May 27, 1978, led with this: “The Washington Hospital Center has more than quadrupled its security force in the face of a threatened strike by registered nurses called for this morning.” It quoted the president of the nurses’ union expressing outrage that “the Washington Hospital Center has seen fit to hire 93 additional guards. The Hospital Center’s vicious attempt to intimidate and divide us should be protested by all responsible citizens.”

Sound familiar? Keep in mind that this was two and a half years before the union-busting Reagan administration took office. When I revisit press clips from the late 1970s, it often feels that the ensuing four decades somehow wound up on the cutting-room floor. This is especially striking (sorry!) when it comes to the environmental movement. We knew all this stuff by 1979 but the economic and political powers that be did precious little about it. (See my blog post on the subject: “1979: Three Mile Island, etc.“)

This Flickr site includes a photo of picketing nurses on the first day of the strike, and a good account of the issues involved, starting with this:

The strike by about 300 of the 425 registered nurses by the District of Columbia Nurses Association (DCNA) at the area’s largest private hospital was mainly over schedules and performance evaluations, but also involving benefits and wages.

Prior to the strike, the hospital administration attempted to decertify the union, filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board challenging its representation of the nurses.

The independent nurses union was only a little over a year old at the time having been certified in December 1976 and obtaining a first contract in May 1977.

When striking nurses attempted to go into the pool at other hospitals, they found that the Hospital Center administration had sought to blackball them. While initially getting hours at Howard Hospital, that administration banned them during the strike.

The strike ended on June 26, when the nurses accepted WHC’s final offer. The results were mixed. The Flickr article notes, “Perhaps the biggest gain of the strike was the nurses preserved their union.”

If you want to leave a comment and don’t see a Leave a Reply box, click the title of this post and then scroll to the bottom.

4 thoughts on “1978: Justice on the Job

    1. I thought it might be. 😉 A WaPo story about the 2000 nurses’ strike at the same hospital refers to “MedStar Health Inc., the Columbia-based nonprofit that owns the 907-bed facility.” I believe MedStar still owns it. Later the same story refers to “Denver-based U.S. Nursing Corp.” which “specializes in staffing strikebound hospitals with outside nurses during work stoppages.” That made me puke, though I knew that such companies existed. That article, from Sept. 21, 2000, is at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2000/09/21/hospital-center-nurses-strike/20bde2a4-b6aa-4b03-bf58-e470127c5caa/.

      Like

      1. Agreed, along with for-profit prisons and maybe for-profit colleges. The Washington Hospital Center is not-for-profit, however — which means nonprofits can be union-busting assholes too. Don’t know what this one’s CEO and other top execs get paid, but that’s always worth looking at.

        Like

Leave a Reply to Helen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s