The Nurses Strike Back, and a Cheerful Poem

Nurses vote to strike

First the news of the health care empire:

Strikes are happening all over the country, and Portland is no exception. This month 96% of the nurses and health care workers at Kaiser in Oregon and southwest Washington voted to authorize a strike. For those who live in other parts of the country, this mammoth HMO has over 12 million members, over 615,000 in Oregon and over 710,000 in Washington state as a whole.

According to the union, Kaiser is offering current employees 1% raises. Meanwhile the current annual inflation rate is 5.4% and is expected to rise to 6.1% by the end of the year. Even Social Security is giving recipients a 5.9% increase in 2022.  So under management’s proposal, the nurses and technicians will actually see their real income decline considerably. Kaiser also wants to institute a two-tiered system in which new hires will start at 26% to 39% less than established employees.

This comes at a time when we have a nationwide shortage of health care providers at all levels—doctors, nurses, technicians, and aides. Many are burned out and leaving the field. Patients are already getting less care, but their insurance premiums aren’t going down. So where does Kaiser plan to find nurses willing to accept much lower pay? Bring them in as containerized cargo from Third World countries?

Management wouldn’t give our local paper, The Oregonian, specific information about their offers. But their HR VP Arlene Peasnall said, “We are extremely grateful for our frontline health care employees, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring.”

Ms. Peasnall, who receives over $1.1 million per year (the current CEO gets $6.6 million), says that Kaiser workers are overpaid. Really? A pharmacy tech gets $55,000 per year, in a city where rents are skyrocketing and it takes around $60,000 for a single person to “live comfortably.” In other words, if you’re trying to support a child on that income, you’re drowning. I guess you can always put up a tent in one of Portland’s 60,000+ homeless encampments (up from 40,000 last year).

And now, to cheer you up, a new poem I wrote to my Kaiser optometrist:

Ευχαριστώ (Thank you)
for Dr. Alexandra Choban

Another survey arrived from Kaiser today
The HMO wants to know how the visit went
and if I’d recommend you to my friends.
From one to five, please, black in the bubbles.
Did I have trouble getting an appointment?
No. I see you every year and am content
to put my sight in your hands.
And yes, you wash them
before instilling the drops
that dilate my eyes before you touch them,
probe them with light that brings me to tears.

But the bean counters never ask the right questions.
Hands and eyes are merely external organs.
While drop by drop, our conversations
touch my soul, expand it. We share
a certain history, both of us immigrants’ daughters
weeping over the newest sea of refugees
that wash up on our shores.

Your mother, playing in the street,
narrowly missed by Nazi bombs
that hit the house and demolished the piano
—no more hated practice sessions—
my mother, fleeing hunger and pogroms,
came to this land, paid for the lessons
I hated as well. But you took up the art
and I can almost hear the old folk songs
you play, your gift to them, almost hear
your parents sing along,
and carry your story, your gift to me,
and treasure their joy in my heart.

3 Responses to The Nurses Strike Back, and a Cheerful Poem

  1. Connie O Byrne October 30, 2021 at 2:01 pm #

    Talk about powerful!!! Your poetry speaks volumes.

    Your words about Kaiser? How dare anyone in their well paid leadership say their staff are overpaid!!!

    And please submit both pieces to your local paper as editorials

  2. Jason Victor Serinus October 30, 2021 at 2:06 pm #

    Wonderful, Martha.


  3. Marc Schnapp October 31, 2021 at 1:06 pm #

    As usual, Martha’s commentary on trends and social waves captures the essence of power differentials. As for the poem: thanks for your clear vision behind those tears.

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