NUHW steward participates on national labor panel

NewsApril 27, 2021

Tammy Wiggin, a switchboard operator at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, participated this month in a Labor Notes panel discussion on healthcare worker organizing during the pandemic.

The only non-nurse on the panel, Wiggin discussed the successful organizing she and her colleagues at the Providence-owned hospital in Napa undertook to protect their health and the health of their patients over the past year. Wiggin, a steward, also shared how the members of her department organized to get management to rescind layoffs that would have cut their ranks by one-third.

“It was inspiring to hear first-hand accounts of healthcare workers organizing to protect each other and patients during the past year,” Wiggin said. “I’m so proud about what my colleagues have accomplished at Queen of the Valley, and it was a privilege to share our accomplishments and outline our challenges we continue to face.”

In her remarks, Wiggin recalled how Queen management several months into the pandemic stopped testing newly admitted patients for COVID and stopped properly cohorting patients, resulting in dozens of workers being exposed to the virus.

After one incident, in which 30 workers were exposed to COVID because patients had not been tested, workers started taking action. The wrote a letter to the CEO demanding that Queen restore appropriate safety measures, started organizing calls with elected officials, got stories about the COVID exposures published in local papers and filed a complaint with the California Department of Public Health that triggered an unannounced state inspection.

Workers also authorized an informational picket and conducted a survey to determine top COVID safety priorities and demanded that the hospital bargain over them.

Under pressure, the hospital made several very important concessions.

Management agreed to provide COVID-19 tests to any worker who wanted it — months before California began requiring testing. The hospital also agreed to require that all workers have face shields and agreed to resume testing patients upon admission and to treat anyone who did not have a confirmed negative test as a PUI.

As a result, the number of exposures dropped quickly. 

Following the panel discussion, Sarah Hughes, the Labor Notes panel organizer, told Wiggin: “You told such a compelling story of unity, creativity, and power.  I just love the idea that the manager covering your shift couldn’t make an outgoing call all day.”

Hughes added: “The way you organize across titles and throughout the departments of the hospital is so crucial, but unfortunately not always widespread.”