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Audio Slideshow: Nurses Union Keeps Pressure On Health Care Overhaul

Nurses converged on Washington in their fight against Wall Street this week.

Hundreds of nurses from across the country rallied to support broader access to health care and to call for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

They gathered Tuesday near the White House and then picketed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with large red banners that read: “RNs say Heal America, Tax Wall Street.” National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union, sponsored the event to promote its “Main Street Contract for the American People,” a campaign that broadly calls for improved living conditions, including guaranteed health care, better wages and quality education.

They plan to rally on Wall Street later this month.

In response to the Washington rally, Blair Latoff, director of communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released the following statement: “The Chamber welcomes all voices to the debate, but the debate has to remain focused on creating American jobs and keeping our economy growing. Right now U.S. businesses are saddled with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, which is undercutting our global competitiveness.”

Some nurses spoke about the need for improved working conditions by increasing pay and enforcing adequate nurse-patient ratios. Many held signs that read: “I am a patient advocate” and “Medicare for all.” Participants finished the rally by gathering at a park near the Capitol, where Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., spoke about the need to protect Medicare and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told the crowd of red-shirted nurses that the nation needs a single payer system like that recently promoted in his own state.

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, suggested that nurses offer a unique perspective on the struggles that patients and their families face because of the direct care they provide. “Everywhere the fallout of this system is felt, and it’s felt and experienced by the registered nurse,” she said.

Sue Gray, 51, who has been a nurse for more than 30 years and cares for cardiac surgery patients at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, says that her own experience as a cancer patient has given her insight into the financial and emotional pressures that patients and their families experience. Diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago, Gray continues to work two days a week despite her cancer, which returned five years ago and has spread to her liver and bones. She does so to provide financial support and health insurance to her self-employed husband and three children.

“We really need to get some type of universal health care so that people going through my situation or families that I see at work that are struggling don’t have to worry about not getting health care,” Gray said.