Stat Facts: Health Care Members Lobby for Workplace Violence Legislation

USW Health Care Council members walked the halls of Congress earlier this month to gain support from representatives and senators for workplace violence protection legislation.

The bills, H.R. 7141 and S 851, direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan. 

Valencia Davis, a nurse assistant at the Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center in Calif., participated in the lobby day because the issue is one that, unfortunately, dominates her work.

“When we’re on the floor, it’s dangerous, especially if you’re the only one on the unit,” Davis, of Local 7600, said. “The violence is both physical and mental, and we get it both from patients and family members.”

Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), the representative who introduced the bill originally in November 2018, believes health care workers like Davis and her fellow union members are long overdue for workplace protections.

“This legislation compels OSHA to do what employees, safety experts, and Members of Congress have been calling for years – create an enforceable standard to ensure that employers are taking these risks seriously, and creating safe workplaces that their employees deserve,” Courtney said last fall.

James Schavers, of Local 183 in Apple Valley, Calif., also joined the union delegation to D.C. A nursing assistant at St. Mary Medical Center for seven years, Schavers became involved with his local union in order to use his voice to create change.

“When I realized we could actually get involved, I went from wanting knowledge to wanting to actually help people,” he said. “One way to do that was telling members of Congress about my and my coworkers’ experiences.”

Schavers has been the victim of violence from patients several times, though it’s his coworkers he worries about most. Training, accountability, and reporting from the hospital are his priorities for his local’s next negotiations, scheduled for summer 2020.

“The hospital expects you to stop patients if they lash out and strike you or rip out their IV’s,” Schavers said, “but they don’t provide proper training or resources. Then if you do experience violence, they expect you to come back to work the next day even if you’re in pain.”

The introduction of the bill and the calls for its support are a part of the larger movement within the health care industry from workers like Schavers who are demanding dignity and protection on the job. Workplace violence, an epidemic often experienced in silence by victims, is finally being taken seriously by those who can help make a difference, including political leaders.

A 2016 GAO study reported that rates of violence against health care workers are up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce, and 70 percent of nonfatal workplace assaults in 2016 occurred in the health care and social assistance sectors. The bill, introduced with the support of 27 members of Congress, aims to reduce these rates.

Davis, who has been a nursing assistant since 1984, is hopeful about the legislation’s prospects for passage after her long day of lobbying on Capitol Hill.

“Everyone we talked to seemed to agree with us,” she said. “I definitely enjoyed the experience, too, and would love to do it again.”

Members Jackie Acklam from District 2 and Tuan Vu from District 11 also participated in the lobby day in Washington, D.C.

Join the Conversation!

 To join the online conversation on workplace violence, use and explore the social media hashtag #SafeJobsNow.

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