Nurses across the US just endorsed Bernie Sanders — here's why

Nurses across the US just endorsed Bernie Sanders — here's why
© Greg Nash

Why are nurses political? For National Nurses United (NNU), the largest U.S. union of registered nurses, the answer to that question involves tracing each patient’s story backward, from the hospital out into the world. 

Our asthma patients come to us from refinery towns, our diabetic patients from jobs that don’t cover the cost of insulin.

Disaster relief volunteers with NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network help patients still in shock from the climate-fueled wildfires and hurricanes they just survived. This summer, our El Paso nurses cared for patients who had just hours earlier been hiding in the aisles of Walmart.

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In short, the illnesses and injuries that culminate at the bedside begin in our patients’ homes and communities. They begin with the policies that govern their lives and our planet, and they are often preventable. So our job, as patient advocates, is to fight beyond the walls of the hospital, in the streets, in our legislators’ office, on the campaign trail— and everywhere our voice makes a difference.

That’s why we are so proud to endorse Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (I-Vt.) for the next president of the United States.

We have a slogan, “vote nurses’ values,” and on the issues that matter, Sen. Sanders has been fighting by our side for years. When nurses imagine the kind of society we want for our patients — that would protect their health, rights and dignity, and perhaps prevent them from needing care in the first place — we know that Sen. Sanders has spent his entire career fighting for that world. 

Take "Medicare for All." Nurses in this country are tired of watching our cancer patient’s lungs fill with fluid after being priced out of a medical intervention, of having to pull an insured patient off the table during a CT scan because the procedure “wasn’t covered,” of having to threaten to call the media before an uninsured child patient is allowed surgery. These are all real stories. That’s why for decades, NNU nurses have been leading the grassroots movement to win health care as a human right, with Medicare for All.

Bernie Sanders has been with us in that fight, long before the last election. And we are so proud that together, in 2016, nurses and Sen. Sanders elevated Medicare for All to a mainstream issue — still today at the forefront of the 2020 campaign.

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But union nurses also value Sen. Sanders’ understanding that no one person can build a healthier, safer, more equitable society alone. His campaign slogan “Not me, us” echoes a truth nurses know from fighting our corporate employers for safe patient care conditions: Collective action gets things done.

Sanders is the only candidate who has been building a mass movement of everyday people. That’s key for union nurses because the United States is a lot like the hospital industry: Billionaires cut corners on workers to boost their own profits, and the only way to hold them accountable is to stand together, in numbers too big to deny, and demand change.

Union nurses take on a billion-dollar industry every single day, and we win. Since January 2018, thousands of nurses and hospital workers at nearly a dozen facilities around the country have successfully unionized with National Nurses United — at a time when unions are under attack and in anti-union “right to work” states.

We’ve done it by standing together. And we know when we stand together on an even larger scale, we can win for patients and families all across this country. Bernie Sanders understands this, too, because he is an organizer. 

Sen. Sanders is making it easier for working people to use our collective power with his dedication to rebuilding the labor movement and protecting workers. He is the chief sponsor of the Workplace Democracy Act and a cosponsor of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. He understands that it’s union power that holds employers accountable. 

He also knows that mass movements of everyday people can take on the other pressing issues of our time, including environmental and climate justice. Nurses and Sen. Sanders agree that patients suffering from pollution, and the increasingly frequent and severe disasters fueled by the climate crisis deserve a Green New Deal. 

Our patients suffering from racism, sexism, xenophobia and gender discrimination deserve safety and equity. Our patients drowning in student debt deserve to have that toxic stress lifted. Our patients crushed by a host of social ills, deserve to live in a world that values their health and doesn’t sicken them.

We can build that world together, with President Bernie Sanders, as organizer-in-chief. This endorsement is about more than just advancing one leader; it’s about advancing a grassroots movement for change. It’s about “us” — the nurses, the patients, the families, the communities that Sen. Sanders is dedicated to uplifting.

Our time has come.

Bonnie Castillo, RN is the executive director of National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States.