Filipina Nurses See Discrimination in San Francisco Health System

Aug 20, 2010

Filipina workers just can’t get a break these days. We recently heard about Filipino teachers raising charges of labor trafficking in Louisiana. This week, the California Nurses Association accused a major healthcare company of "systematic discrimination against the hiring of Filipino registered nurses." According to a complaint issued by the CNA and community groups to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco implemented a hiring ban around the beginning of 2008, which led to a steep drop in the hiring of Filipinas. The groups allege, "Before February 2008, 65% of St Luke’s RNs were Filipino. After February 2008, only 10% of RNs hired were Filipino." At a press conference, the CNA also revealed key testimony pointing to deliberate bias:

Chris Hanks, a former director of Critical Care Services at CPMC, said in a declaration that [VP of Nursing Diana] Karner told him on a number of occasions, "you are not to hire any Filipinos."

The nurses represent a segment of the immigrant workforce often overlooked in the reform debate. They’ve entered the country legally, ostensibly in order to fill specific labor shortages. But in a system that imports foreign workers like prepackaged goods, their workplace rights, as well as the needs of the communities they’ve helped build in America, are easy prey for employment discrimination. It’s unclear what motivated the alleged violations, but the labor politics surrounding nurse immigration offer some clues. The American Nurses Association (a professional organization that is distinct from the CNA), has chafed at the growing presence of Filipino nurses in the workforce, Meanwhile, the labor tension is exacerbated by a visa crunch and an impending nursing shortage. Earlier this year, ANA representative Cheryl Peterson told New America Media, "If we allow for a large number of foreign-educated nurses to come to the U.S., and we make it easier for hospitals to get the providers that they need, they are not likely to address the issue of why we can’t have a sufficient supply in the U.S." Though there may be legitimate concerns about training programs for American nurses, the resistance to immigrant workers could breed a xenophobic sentiment that influences hiring decisions. In contrast, the CNA has welcomed Filipina nurses into the labor movement as part of a broader campaign to protect jobs and sustain local services. Lillian Galedo of Filipino Advocates for Justice said the company was targeting "unionized Filipina nurses at St. Luke’s who stood up to Sutter’s plans to cut services to our community." In the announcement of the complaint and a related class action grievance, Terry Valen of the Filipino Community Center and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns said, "Sutter and CPMC must be held accountable for providing immigrants and communities of color in San Francisco access to permanent jobs and the healthcare we need in our community, not deliberate racial discrimination and medical redlining." The discrimination case ties together various labor, health care and immigration issues, but the main through-line is that the Filipina nurses at Sutter didn’t come just to work; they came to build their lives, in California and throughout the diaspora. To cut them out of the labor force is to shut their communities out of a health system plagued by inequity.