National Nurses United

Registered Nurse January-February 2009

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Profile:FINAL 2/28/09 1:16 AM Page 19 Gerber. "The organization was going one way, and the nurses were going another, and I was going with the nurses." Gerber continued to represent healthcare workers at other Bay Area unions. The conflict at CNA between bedside nurses and nurse managers came to a head in 1993, when nurses with the help of staff organized a take-over of the board of directors to give bedside nurses a majority vote. Rose Ann DeMoro, now the executive director of CNA/NNOC, had helped spearhead the rebellion and asked Gerber if she would return to the organization to help with the hard work of organizing nurses to challenge the hospital industry which, at the time, was "restructuring" by replacing registered nurse with unlicensed personnel. As director of education, Gerber helped stage a statewide roadshow, traveling from city to city to educate RNs about the industry's plans for changing nursing and how hospitals were financed. In 1996, Gerber was elected to the Contra County Board of Supervisors on "a fluke," as she describes it. She had been helping CNA fight the county over its plans to send patients to other hospitals instead of rebuilding its own facility, and was frustrated by one particularly rude supervisor, who happened to represent the district where Gerber lived. Gerber mentioned to the head of the labor council that "you guys need to get somebody to run against that woman." The council absolutely agreed, urging her to run. For a long time Gerber refused, but decided to challenge the incumbent at the last minute because "somebody had to." Plus, she didn't think she could really win. But she did. "Government relations is just another organizing During her terms, Gerber worked primarily on job. We're just organizing legislators." "smart growth" urban planning and development projects, on expanding hospital capacity by helping reopen a Kaiser hospital and increasing beds at another, and saving emergency arbitration of grievances that they hadn't asked for in the first place. Her education in unions took off from that point. She became a department services. She said that her time in office taught her that union rep in her office, handling grievances, negotiating, and learning "you can be very bold on issues as long as you are relating to the people how to organize groups of people. She liked it so much that she real- you represent on something that they care about. You can even expand what they care about." ized she'd rather work for a union full time. After an unsuccessful bid for the state Assembly in 2004, CNA/NNOC For the next six years, Gerber worked as an organizer for a variety of unions, helping mostly state and county workers. During that time, lured her back as its government relations director. In that position, she she quickly learned that government employees could heavily influ- said she has been able to integrate all of the skills she has gathered over ence elected officials, either through electoral politics or lobbying, the years, drawing on her vast union, organizing, legislative, and political and that elected officials in turn enjoyed great control over county experience. "Government relations is just another organizing job," she likes to say. "We're just organizing legislators." Most recently, she took on policies toward workers. In 1981, Gerber started working as a labor representative for the the Assembly speaker to defeat ill-conceived healthcare reform proposals California Nurses Association while it was still headed by its board of in California that would have forced people to buy insurance without nurse managers, but was promptly fired within six months. She never guaranteeing them healthcare or capping costs. Her coworkers will miss her. "Donna and I spent many hours figured out exactly why they fired her, but it probably had to do with her assertiveness in representing bedside nurses. Gerber fought her together fighting the Legislature and it's time I will cherish," said dismissal, an arbitrator eventually decided that she had been illegally Stephanie Roberson, who has worked closely under Gerber in Sacrafired, and she was reinstated. She planned to return to work just long mento for several years. She said that just sitting back and listening to enough to show her coworkers that you could fight management and Gerber explain the political landscape is the best training anyone can receive. "The little blond package cannot be underestimated." I win, but ended up staying for seven years. After the incident where she was arrested at Kaiser, she decided to really quit. "I was sick of the internal schizophrenic behavior," said Lucia Hwang is editor of Registered Nurse. JANUARY | FEBRUARY 2009 W W W. C A L N U R S E S . O R G REGISTERED NURSE 19

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