Integrating equity and anti-racism into our legislative agenda

This story was published in the Winter 2021 issue of The Washington Nurse magazine.

Wa nurse leg priorities equity

On Saturday, June 6, 2020, thousands of health care workers marched through Seattle in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Amid urgent calls for racial justice and a pandemic that has magni­fied and exposed inequities in the health care system, it is clear that the 2021 legisla­tive session must address systemic racism. The Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion is collab­o­rating with other health care unions and the Washington State Labor Council to integrate an equity/anti-racist lens into our collec­tive legisla­tive work.

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preven­tion (CDC), Black, Hispanic/​Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native people experi­ence much higher COVID-19 death rates than white people. Out of 100,000 people, 110 Black people, 77 American Indian and Alaska Native people, and 74 Hispanic/​Latino people have died of COVID-19. This is compared to 52 of 100,000 white people dying from COVID-19.

These dispar­i­ties exist not because of a genetic, biolog­ical or cultural predis­po­si­tion to disease, but rather the direct result of social injus­tice — including a health care system that provides inequitable care based on race. COVID-19 has highlighted that our unions’ collec­tive, current legisla­tive approach is not enough to decon­struct racist systems or produce change at the rate and speci­ficity necessary.

The labor movement has its own turbu­lent record with racism. To many members of color, histor­i­cally white-led labor organi­za­tions have not adequately addressed racism in the workplace. In fact, in too many instances, these labor organi­za­tions have been discrim­i­na­tory tools to advance white supremacy. However, at our best, labor unions can be a powerful tool for trans­for­ma­tional leader­ship and a place for all working people to build security and solidarity across racial and ethnic groups. For example, compared to their non-union counter­parts, many women in unions experi­ence a wage advan­tage in Washington state: Hispanic/​Latina (42%), Black (34%), white (31%) and Asian American and Pacific Islander (15%).

With the goal of becoming an anti-racist organi­za­tion and an anti-racist labor movement, we are in the early stages of doing a delib­erate anti-racist reimag­ining of our legisla­tive approach. We know that we are late to this work. We hope to learn from, lift up and join commu­ni­ties of color that have been on the front­lines of this work for gener­a­tions. We will provide a more detailed update in the spring issue of The Washington Nurse. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to WSNA’s Public Affairs staff with any questions or ideas about this work.

WSNA’s priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session

WSNA is working to improve enforcement of the Nurse Staffing Law

Our experiences over the past two years have illustrated deficiencies in enforcement of the Nurse Staffing Law, and WSNA has filed 22 complaints with the DOH. We couldn’t have done it without the Assignment Despite Objection (ADO) forms our members filed to call out problems in their facilities.

Your voice is more essential than ever

The legislative session may look different this year, but one thing will remain the same: Your voice is essential to the process! Nurses are the most trusted profession, and your voice carries much credibility and weight with lawmakers.