Nurses plan day of action, seek more COVID-19 protections

National Nurses United plans events across the country. The union is urging President Biden’s administration to do more to protect healthcare workers.

Nurses across the country plan to hold a day of action this week as they seek more protections against COVID-19.

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, is planning events across the country on Thursday. The events include a candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C. to honor nurses who have died due to COVID-19.

The union has criticized President Joe Biden's administration, saying recent federal actions are eroding protections for nurses and other healthcare workers.

The group cited the revised COVID-19 isolation guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has signed off on shorter isolation periods for healthcare providers, particularly if they face staffing shortages.

Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of National Nurses United, said Tuesday that nurses aren’t being given sufficient protection.

“As we enter year three of the deadliest pandemic in our lifetimes, nurses are enraged to see that, for our government and our employers, it’s all about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health,” she said in a statement.

“Our employers claim there is a ‘nursing shortage,’ and that’s why they must flout optimal isolation times, but we know there are plenty of registered nurses in this country,” she added. “There is only a shortage of nurses willing to work in the unsafe conditions created by hospital employers and this government’s refusal to impose lifesaving standards.”

Nurses have joined labor groups to petition the Biden administration to back a permanent standard to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19. Last week, the NNU joined the AFL-CIO and other unions in filing a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They want the court to order the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make the standard permanent.

In December, OSHA said it was rescinding an emergency temporary standard of protection, which was enacted in June and can only stay in place for six months. The agency said it still intends to move toward a permanent standard.

OSHA said last month the agency “intends to continue to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards, and will do so as it also considers its broader infectious disease rulemaking.”

OSHA also said it would continue to "vigorously enforce" regulations calling for healthcare organization to provide personal protective equipment and respiratory protection.

Nonetheless, the NNU and labor groups said a temporary standard should remain in effect until a final rule is in place. They also blasted the timing of the expiration of the temporary standard, as the Omicron variant is leading to unprecedented spikes in new cases.

Hospitals across the country have said they’re treating overwhelming numbers of patients with COVID-19, and are dealing with staff shortages with some workers getting infected.

Nurses have been working under unfair and unsafe conditions for too long, the NNU argues.

The NNU said it recently surveyed its members and 83% of participants said at least half their shifts were unsafely staffed and 68% said they have considered leaving their position.

The nurses’ union is calling on hospitals to hire permanent staff nurses and provide sufficient training so that nurses can work across different departments. They also said they are seeking more robust safety measures to protect healthcare workers and patients.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal workers, lauded the Biden administration for moving toward a permanent standard of protection but said such a rule could take years. Everett Kelley, the union’s president, said last week the government should institute another temporary standard.

“The Biden administration must put worker safety first and reissue an emergency temporary standard that protects not only health care workers, but all essential front-line workers,” Kelley said in a Jan. 4 statement.