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Fight Back! Interview

Barb Cleveland, Leader of UIC Struggle, Speaks Out

by Joe Iosbaker |
October 1, 1999
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At the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Medical Center, the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) is in negotiations for a new contract. The bosses here are out to serve the wealthy few that own the healthcare corporations. They have been bombarding workers with attack after attack, and the INA has been actively resisting. Fight Back! interviewed Barb Cleveland, a nurse in the Oncology Clinic, and a member of the INA bargaining committee.

Fight Back!: The Outpatient Clinics have doubled the number of patient visits in recent years, while the Hunter Group calls for cutting jobs. What are nurses facing here?

Barb Cleveland: First, we are unable to render quality patient care. We're short-staffed, and because of the cuts being made, many nurses are going without breaks, without lunches. We're not able to spend the time that a patient might need. We must give the absolutely necessary care and then move on to the next patient. I work in an outpatient area, and we don't have time to talk to patients, and in Oncology that's very important.

The way that care is expected to be rendered now, it makes it difficult for nurses who love nursing. For myself, seeing the way things are going, I'll probably have to get out of nursing, because I love it that much, and I'm not going to shortchange the patients.
On top of that, we are facing the loss of our jobs, as the Hunter Group called for cuts in every job, including nursing.

Fight Back!: What has come across the negotiating table?

Barb Cleveland: First, management plans to remove the clinics from under the University. The financial part would be turned over to a University-related organization. The physicians would be the employer, but many doctors here don't know about this. The upper ranks of physicians, who don't actually practice medicine here, would own the clinics. This is an act of privatization.

Second, we've now heard that the University plans to appeal to the State Civil Service Merit Board to take the Hospital out from under the University. Management stated that this would mean an end to bumping rights and seniority rights for clerical staff and housekeeping. They told us it wouldn't harm nurses. But we know ourselves that an attack on service workers would be an attack on us.

Management wants to make the Hospital a freestanding institution, because they want to privatize it as well. But we are going to fight them. We'll be at the Board of Trustees meeting in January, and we'll be at the Merit Board in February to oppose them. It is our understanding that for the University to do this with the Hospital, that a majority of employees must vote for it, and they don't want us to have a vote on it.

Management wants nurses and service workers to fight each other. But we are realizing that we're all being worked to the point of incompetence. We have to stop blaming each other and blame the right people.