Comment by David Hughes: The present pandemic has inspired many performing artists: locked down, they are reinventing old works and coming up with new ones. A century ago in 1914, labor bard Joe Hill did the same from his own lockdown—a Salt Lake City jail—lifting lines from “The Internationale” and composing new ones like these from “Workers of the World, Awaken”:
If the workers take a notion,
They can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean
They can tie with mighty chains;
Every wheel in the creation,
Every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation,
Will at their command stand still.
When Andrea was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, between 2010 and 2019, our branch had a banner that read—well, here’s a photograph:
This is no “pie in the sky” working-class aspiration, to quote Joe Hill again. Andrea lived it herself in 1992 and I asked her to tell it here.
I transferred from Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center, on Sunset Blvd., to East L.A. at the end of 1991. I’d been forced to make the move when my department, known as the “float pool,” was dissolved. Floating to various clinics and departments had allowed me to talk with fellow workers across our area as to their rights. I also fought for workers in my own department, who were being used as temps with no chance of converting to permanent(e). Eventually I think I became such a thorn in Kaiser’s side that they closed the float pool and required me to transfer. I chose the East L.A. clinic.
Not long after I was at East L.A., Kaiser opened its Glendale clinic, in 1992. Our supervisor—I’ll call her Janie—was asked to cover both locations. She became so busy at Glendale we essentially had no supervisor for a year. I was so relieved that she was gone. The workplace was transformed. Employees were being really responsible, always coming to work. People seemed to be happier. Because everybody was pitching in, I told my coworkers, “We don’t need a supervisor. We can do this ourselves.” The best part was that no grievances needed to be filed. No employees found themselves in trouble with management, because management didn’t really exist, even though Janie was only a phone call away. People were just being nice to each other—even Elvie (an RN in another union), which was not in her nature.
All of this was in sharp contrast with what had happened just before Janie started at Glendale. When David asked me what Janie actually did, I told him that writing people up for infractions was her main job. She didn’t really solve problems. For instance, take the case of—we’ll call him Marciano—who was an LVN. I’d only been at East L.A. a week or two when the incident happened. It was one that, had Janie already been at Glendale, would have had to be reported to her. But its outcome was disgusting.
On a Tuesday my car broke down, so I didn’t get to the clinic until ten o’clock. My coworker—we’ll call her Yvette—was really upset. “Marciano needs to see you, but he’s already been sent home.” I had worked with Marciano at Sunset in Urgent Care. I knew him to be a very conscientious worker, but at East L.A. he was constantly harassed because of his perceived sexuality. Another nurse—we’ll call her Lana—would run around behind him, make sexual comments, and would put her middle finger in front of his crotch and wiggle it. I witnessed this myself; it happened every day. I asked him, “Marciano, why do you allow this?” “We’ve already had a session with Janie,” he told me, “but all she said was that we should just try to get along.” I replied, “You should file a grievance with the supervisor for not having the work environment under control.” But he didn’t.
Earlier that morning in question Marciano had gone to another nurses station to get a vial of tetanus vaccine, with a capped hypodermic. Somehow he was shaking the empty syringe and the cap came off, accidentally sticking another nurse—we’ll call her Ramona—through her clothing. She reported the needle stick as required; she told me so when she came to me at the Lab desk to get an HIV test ordered by a doctor.
I knew why Marciano wanted to see me. He probably was worried about being fired. I had been a union shop steward at Sunset, but didn’t consider myself one at East L.A. because I felt stewards should be elected by coworkers, not appointed by business agents. (I had fought very hard for that policy earlier.) Nevertheless, when Marciano came to see me the next day, I accompanied him to Janie’s office. When we discussed the needle stick incident Janie hemmed and hawed, picking her words carefully. I knew she was going to terminate him. “Because of what you did and your HIV status I have no choice but to terminate you,” she told Marciano. “You’re not terminating him because of what he did,” I told her. “You’re terminating him because of who he is.”
Marciano filed a grievance. The union’s homophobic business agents wouldn’t take his case to arbitration. They wouldn’t even talk with me. I don’t know why I didn’t go over their heads and speak with the union attorney directly, like I described last time. One possibility is the action the doctors took after Marciano was fired.
Dr. Merchy had been the clinic chief for years, but no longer was. He was upset about Marciano’s termination and told me he wanted to draw up a petition of protest. I said, “Alright, I’ll help you.” It was circulated only to doctors and signed by all except the chief, who held a meeting to discuss the situation. One doctor (who happened to be a communist) got so mad about what they’d heard in meeting, they walked out and resigned as assistant chief. Another doctor asked to have their name removed from the petition. Still, the petition contained five doctors’ signatures.
I sent the petition to Personnel. I heard through the grapevine that Kaiser would have to put Marciano back to work because so many doctors supported his reinstatement. I got excited but something held me back from telling him. And it was for the best. It had been a decade since the onset of HIV/AIDS, and medical professionals were supposed to be the most level headed in their approach. But in the end, with Marciano, the homophobes won. After that, perhaps emboldened, employees continued inappropriate behavior, going so far as making gestures (limp wrists and such) behind the backs of members—patients—they perceived to be gay. This continued to the point I went to Personnel to demand sensitivity training. To my relief, it made a big difference.
A Clinical Trial Suspended
After that we ran our clinic without a supervisor for a full year. Workers didn’t have a mommy figure to run to with petty complaints. Eventually the chief decided he needed to fill the position. As interviews began I talked with my coworkers who agreed we didn’t need a boss. We got one anyway, and everything changed. For the worse.
Header image: David
found this on a Reddit sub.
It’s kinda creepy and a fitting
commentary on my post.