PHILADELPHIA - Continuing its campaign to strip its blood bank workers of their rights and their health care, the American Red Cross - one of the nation's largest charities - has forced some 250 nurses and blood donor collectors in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey out on strike.
After a morning rally here June 6 the workers, members of the American Federation of Teachers Local 5103, brought their campaign to Washington, where they staged a mass protest at Red Cross headquarters.
At issue here and in 23 other places nationwide where contracts have expired, is not just mistreatment of Red Cross workers - the charity wants to freeze pay and yank the right to bargain over health insurance - but also the impact that mistreatment of workers has on the nation's blood supply.
The unions, including AFT, the Office and Professional Employees, the Steelworkers, AFSCME, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Teamsters, the Communications Workers, the Service Employees and the Auto Workers, point out Red Cross' mismanagement of the U.S. blood supply is so wide-ranging that it had to sign a court-ordered "consent decree" in 1993 with the feds, promising to correct abuses.
But the problems continue, forcing the federal Food and Drug Administration to fine the Red Cross $37 million since then. And 64 of 231 "serious and preventable" blood recalls were in the Philadelphia-New Jersey region. Fines there are $9.78 million.
The problems brought the protesters to Washington, marching in front of the headquarters and releasing a report detailing the Red Cross' abuses in its $2 billion blood supply business. The problems are directly linked to Red Cross worker mistreatment and its 212 instances of labor law breaking, the unionists said.
The contract between Local 5103 and the Red Cross expired May 22, and the workers were forced to strike two days later. The report unions released documented low morale among workers resulting from what unions say has been years of disrespect for workers' rights at the Red Cross.
Red Cross "is an organization that is supposed to be about caring," AFT President Randi Weingarten declared to the crowd at the demonstration in the nation's capital. "But if you don't care about your own workers, you don't care about the people you're caring for, either.
"What I find most offensive is that they say, 'We'll talk about safety after you give up your collective bargaining rights.' Collective bargaining is about safety," Weingarten declared. Brandishing the report, Ann Twomey, president of AFT's New Jersey nurses affiliate, added, "This is not only a big business, it's a greedy one."