It was ten years ago today, December 17, 2001, when 1300 of the 1500 Registered Nurses working at OHSU walked out on strike. With the support and guidance of the Oregon Nurses Association, particularly the Association of University Registered Nurses President Dominga Lopez and our great ONA Labor Representative Kathleen Sheridan, 1100 of us stayed out on strike for 56 days. We marched back into the hospital, victorious, on February 13, 2002. The ONA account of the strike is here.
I walked the picket line outside the Emergency Room on SW Sam Jackson Park Road in the wind, rain, and snow. I walked on Christmas Day, and on New Years Eve. I walked when a retired person left a huge plate of catered goodies "because the union got me my pension, and I support what you're doing", and when someone threw eggs at us. I walked by day and I walked in the evening, using battery-powered holiday lights to make sure my picket sign could be seen. I walked with nurses from all over the city and beyond, and with electricians and fire fighters and longshoremen and painters and stay-home-parents. I walked by myself sometimes, making sure there was someone on the picket line so that the Teamsters' drivers would honor the AFL-CIO sign and turn back from making deliveries.
I learned a lot. I learned that working people with clear goals, sticking together, can accomplish significant changes. I learned that a group of mostly women making low wages in jobs with no power could outlast and out-strategize the mostly men making megabucks in the powers-that-be. I learned that I could be a voice for working people when others could not, because I was not afraid of reprisals since my family was not depending on my wages to survive.
I learned a lot that I am now using in my work on the Portland City Council. The mighty mighty nurses of OHSU took a principled stand on that cold morning 10 years ago, and the sweet victory 56 days later gave many of us the courage and assurance to keep working for greater equity and justice. Happy Anniversary to my Union sisters and brothers.