It’s hard to believe that ten years ago today the RN strike started against St. Johns Mercy Medical Center. In some ways it seems like just yesterday, and others many lifetimes ago. It was certainly a life changing event for me. I was picket site #6 (why do I remember this stuff?) and met a lot of new people over the almost six weeks we were out in the freezing cold. I remember Christmas Day being extremely cold and since I would have worked 3-11, I did four hours on the picket line. Then on New Years Eve it was so warm we didn’t even have the fire barrels fired up. We certainly turned the medical center into shanty town. I remember that some people who lived there complaining about it. It really was monumental. I do believe we were the first nurses union in the state of Missouri and certainly the first to strike.
During this time, we created an email chain and would send out emails for support and to let each other know what was going on. Well since I love to write, you can see that I became heavily involved. It is how I became fairly well-known all over the hospital. Now this totally cracked me up because you see ever since I was a little kid, I would hide out in the corner hoping no one would notice me. I am still that way most of the time. My sister-in-law worked at Dierbergs and people would come through her line and say I know your sister-in-law Rachel. It was crazy.
The emails were turned over to management upon return to work. We eventually found out who did it and although it was infuriating at the time, as time as passed it really no longer matter. Everyone that was out on strike had to go to meetings before they could return to work. I am not sure if they thought all the people who stayed out the entire time were going to break the legs of people who worked during that time. I certainly had no intention of it. However, I was not allowed to attend one of those meetings but had a special one on one meeting with HR and my nurse manager. They had to access my level of anger to see if I was safe to return to work. I remember talking to my father after the meeting and he said he would have walked in there and told them to F off. I however played the game because I really just wanted to come back to work and resume taking care of the heart print patients. (moms who lost a baby). And so I promised to be good and stay out of trouble. And that lasted about two shifts at work. Management put a note on the dry erase board stating we could no longer chart at the main nurses station but had to chart at the pods. So what did I do? I wrote spare me next to it. The next shift I worked I got called into the office and talked to by HR like I had just sold heroin to kids on the school playground. I was informed I would be formally counseled for this to which my smart reply was great I will bring a union rep. Our secretary was a union person and she honored the picket line and never returned to work. So Holly was our new secretary. I walked up to her and said do you smoke and she said yes. I said I’m Rachel and we are going to go smoke a cigarette. So after not smoking for six weeks while out on strike I was back at it. I also made a great friend in Holly that day!
The nurses union would be voted out three years later and not return. I became involved with CNA (California Nurses Association) now called NNOC (national nurses organizing committee.) until the union was voted out. I was then finished with it and ready just to focus on nursing. I became good friends with those representatives as well who also constantly told me I was a leader. I still don’t see myself as a leader but since everyone else seems to, I try to behave these days.
After the strike was over Laura talked me into signing up to do a 1/2 marathon with Team in Training. She ended up becoming pregnant and did not do the marathon but I did. I smoked all during the training and would actually smoke to and from the way to the track. It would be another 4 years before Erin would talk Jennifer and I into doing a 1/2 marathon. It was the Lewis and Clark half and my number was 2319. (Yep the monsters inc code which i was totally excited). Erin ended up not being able to do it because that is when our computer documentation started but it triggered my walking and then running obsession.
A lot of good things came out of the strike. I made some great friends especially Kathy, Jean, Carol, and Jane from the surgery center. I found out I am seen as a leader of sorts, no matter how scary that might be. I eventually started running and got into the best shape of my life. And I still work at Mercy despite my constant paranoia that I will be fired at anytime.