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Striking Red Cross Workers Bring the Fight to Washington

When nurses and other workers say there is a serious problem with the safety of the blood supply, the public expects the American Red Cross to pay attention and listen to them, says AFT President Randi Weingarten.

 

But since the Red Cross has refused to heed their warnings, dozens of nurses and donor collection staff who are on strike traveled by bus to picket in front of the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., June 6. Hundreds of union activists and supporters joined the striking workers in their protest.

Nearly 250 nurses and donor collection staff at the Blood Services Division of the American Red Cross in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey region went on strike May 24 over safety issues, including high turnover of staff, inconsistent training, equipment shortages and unsafe working conditions. The workers are represented by Health Professionals and Allied Employees. (See earlier story.)

"We're here for donor safety, blood safety and staff safety," Renee Conyers, co-president of HPAE Local 5103, which represents the workers, told the crowd. "Red Cross has been violating workers' rights for over 15 years. There's a high turnover and a shortage of workers."

"We want to ensure everyone's safety," says Pascaline Estriplet, a phlebotomist who has worked for the Red Cross in Philadelphia for the last three years. That's the bottom line, she says.

Ann Twomey

Since 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fined the American Red Cross $37 million for repeated safety violations. In 2009, the Red Cross Penn-Jersey Blood Services Region was fined $2.9 million. A report released by HPAE at the rally details the recurring noncompliance with safety practices at Red Cross blood collection sites in the Penn-Jersey region and elsewhere around the country.

"It's a sorry, sorry tale," HPAE president and AFT vice president Ann Twomey told the protesters.

"The Red Cross is supposed to be about serving. But if you don't care about your workers, you don't care about the people you are serving," said AFT's Weingarten, who joined the picketers. "We know it's a tough time to strike, but you are fighting for safety and that is a virtuous fight!" [Adrienne Coles/AFT press release/photos by Bill Burke/Page One/video by Brett Sherman and Matthew Jones]

June 6, 2011