Lu-Anne Cobb: Fighting to Protect Nurses, Prisoners, and the Community at PBSP
As organizing efforts at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) in Crescent City continue, the battle to protect nurses and ensure the safety of all workers at the facility have become more crucial than ever. The work taken up by SEIU Local 1000 members to address these issues now faces a multitude of issues, but our members continue to meet the challenge. Lu-Anne Cobb, a LVN and union member working at PBSP, has been stepping up to lead with the organizing team as the demands of their work environment grow more difficult.
Lu-Anne, like most of the staff at PBSP, has been working without meaningful support from Pelican Bay management for the entirety of the COVID-19 crisis. And as the seriousness of the pandemic came into view, existing workplace issues worsened. “At Pelican Bay, the nurses have always lived under a microscope,” said Lu-Anne. “We function under the constant scrutiny of management.” This destructive management style has created a confused whirlwind of staff changes, understaffed departments, and shortchanged employees. “Staff in management discretion posts never have a home base,” she explained. “Their posts are constantly changed to compensate for mismanaged scheduling, meaning we never have a plan and are always stuck in a reactionary crisis mode.”
This perpetual state of crisis is not helped by the fact that management has been unwilling to accommodate nurses’ requests to change or adjust their posts, instead dictating confusing and disjointed instructions. “Multiple posts and duties just don’t allow for good nursing,” she said. “Instead, it’s designed to satisfy the dashboard, leaving us very vulnerable to error.” In a pandemic, where health facilities have become such crucial proving grounds for the safety protocols that keep all Californians safe, errors caused by misleading or simply fictitious reports to nurses by management is unacceptable.
This top-down approach has also proven unsuccessful at addressing the health risks at the facility. Instead, it exacerbates the underlying problems. “It’s another layer of fear, harming our health and well-being as well as our safety,” said Lu-Anne. “Our patients, level four inmates, are also feeling the strain, and they are the ones ultimately impacted by our inability to provide the care we are mandated to give.” This tension between wanting to work to the best of their abilities while guarding against transmitting a deadly disease in a rural community is one Lu-Anne and the other members have been facing every day they come into work.
The problems Lu-Anne is fighting to solve are not new. Two and a half years ago, nurses at Pelican Bay, working under a climate of fear, kept their heads down. Today, Lu-Anne says, “we are speaking up and asking questions.” The work nurses do every day is complex, demanding, and crucial to the health of their workplace and community, and their demands are simple. “Every one of us has a story, every one of us goes home each day worrying about tomorrow, and every one of us sits on the edge of our bed dreading the day that lays ahead,” she said. “I know that none of us wants to be the forgotten person that sits alone ever again.”