Legislation & Politics Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I just want to take care of my patients and get a good contract for my bargaining unit. Why should I care about politics?  What does politics have to do with nursing or with my bargaining unit?

A.Political activism is an important part of patient advocacy.  The reason for this is that an enormous percentage of taxpayer dollars go toward paying for health care. In Massachusetts, for example, almost 50% of the state budget (about $13 billion dollars annually) is used to pay for health care. These expenditures include Medicare/Medicaid payments, direct aid to hospitals, funding for state mental and public health hospitals, funding for public health and school nurses, health care for state workers, community health centers, and countless other areas of health care spending. When this level of public dollars is spent in a single policy area, you can be sure that elected officials will exercise their influence. Furthermore, nurses represent the largest – and therefore most expensive – group of health care providers, which means they are of particular interest to policy makers.

The nursing profession is also under siege, and has been for a number of years. Managed care, deskilling, re-engineering, mandatory overtime, floating, under staffing, using unlicensed personnel to replace RNs and other professionals – all of these well-established health care trends threaten the profession.

Elected officials at both the state and federal levels have influence over a wide variety of issues related to nursing and your workplace. These areas include nursing practice, health care finance, staffing levels, medical errors, whistleblower protections, hospital closure and conversion, insurance, and your own pension, health care and other benefits. In other words, your elected officials have a tremendous influence over your workplace and your ability to care for your patients.

Finally, be assured that if you’re not talking to elected officials about health care issues, somebody else is. Guess who: the hospital industry, the insurance/HMO industry, and the pharmaceutical industry! All the more reason it is imperative for nurses to talk to municipal, state and federal elected officials.

Nurses are a “politically glamorous” constituency. You have the very highest credibility with the public on health care issues – poll after poll confirms this status. The public trusts and believes what you say about health care. This gives nurses a big responsibility, but also considerable power. Politics allows you to use that power to help yourself and your patients.

The MNA’s Division of Legislation and Governmental Affairs is specifically designed to make it easy for you to become politically active. The Division has a Regional Community Organizer assigned to each region of the state to help you to bring political pressure to bear on the problem you’re facing, from difficult contract negotiations to working on legislation that affects your ability to safely care for patients. Staff members will do the legwork that will allow you to testify at a public hearing on legislation, call your legislator about a bill, contribute to the MNA’s Political Action Committee, visit your members of Congress in Washington, DC, or get involved with a political campaign. It is imperative that RNs and health care professionals be politically active, to protect both yourself and your patients, and the MNA makes it easy.


 

Q. What is a Regional Community Organizer?  Who is mine, and how do I reach them?

A.The Regional Community Organizer provides staff expertise to the Region in carrying out the goals of the MNA. This includes collaborating with the Regional Councils for the purpose of advancing goals and objectives of the MNA.  These staff people organize grassroots political activities, including political campaigns, legislative campaigns and membership education and mobilization. This includes assisting in coordinating grassroots constituent lobbying activities, such as postcards, phone calls and visits with legislators.

The Organizers connect our members with like-minded groups and organizations. These groups may include other labor unions, civic organizations, senior groups and other economic and social justice organizations.  These kinds of connections can help during a legislative campaign, or during difficult bargaining negotiations.  The Organizers can also assist bargaining units by bringing elected officials into the process when contract negotiations become protracted and contentious. With vigorous activism of the members, the additional political pressure helps to move the process along at key moments.

Please visit our Contact Us page for a listing of Regional Community Organizers.



 

Q. How can my Regional Community Organizer help my bargaining unit?

A.Bargaining unit issues and concerns are best addressed when the members are cohesive and united.  Your Community Organizer, in concert with your Labor AD, can work with you to help organize and strengthen your bargaining unit.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  Your Community Organizer can:

  • Assist with internal organizing activities.
  • Reach out to other labor groups, senior groups, and social justice organizations to help you with a picket, a job action, or a political activity.
  • Reach out to elected officials and ask them to help you.
  • What is most effective is to have a relationship with elected officials prior to asking for their help.  Your Community Organizer can help identify elected officials in your area and guide you in building those relationships.
  • Your Community Organizer can work with your bargaining unit and Labor AD to help you inform elected officials of the issues in your workplace, either in writing or by arranging a legislative briefing. 
  • Work in concert with MNA’s Division of Communications to craft a public message and work with you on the best methods of delivering that message. 


 

Q. Who are my elected representatives and how do I contact them? 

A.Go to the state’s website at http://www.wheredoivotema.com

 


 

Q. What is the difference between my state Senator and Senators Kennedy/Kerry?

A.Your State Senator is exactly that: your Senator at the "state" level, representing you at the State House on Beacon Hill.  Senators Kennedy and Kerry, on the other hand, are your Senators at the federal level, representing you in Washington, DC.

Each state decides how many State Senators go to the state's legislature in the state's capitol.  In Massachusetts, for example, there are 40 State Senators.  The United States Constitution requires that each state, regardless of its size, have two senators in the U.S. Senate, one of the two branches of Congress.


 

Q. What are some recent MNA legislative accomplishments?

A.Although the legislative process is always complex and trying, the MNA can point to some notable successes in recent years:

  • Nurses and health care professionals employed by the state have repeatedly beaten back attempts to shift more of the cost of health care from the state to the employee.
  • Nurses and health care professionals have also been able to advocate effectively for their patients in the Department of Public Health, Department of Mental Retardation and the Department of Mental Health, fending off budget cuts during the last two legislative cycles in a time of great fiscal distress and state belt-tightening. Although the funding is still not adequate to properly care for patients, all three departments still saw slight increases in this economically hostile environment.
  • Although the Safe Staffing bill did not ultimately pass, further progress has been made. It again received an overwhelming “yes” vote in the House and was sent to the Senate. Although the Senate ultimately passed a far weaker bill, the MNA still received a strong showing of support from Senators. This was the first time the Senate ever debated the measure. In addition to this advance in the legislature, the Coalition supporting this critical patient safety measure has swelled in numbers, reaching over 135 in the most recent session, as well as in vigor. Seniors, community activists and labor brothers and sisters have joined nurses at rallies, delegation visits, phone banks and the public hearing, lending their voice to our critical fight.
  • Legislation that would put in place measures to help prevent workplace violence was reported favorably out of both the committee on public safety and homeland security and the committee on health care financing. This is the furthest this legislation has ever gone. The public hearing on this issue also raised awareness of this issue both locally and on the national level. It received attention from local TV, radio and print press but also from national outlets such as CNN.
  • Safe Patient Handling legislation, another MNA priority, had both a successful public hearing and was also reported favorably out of both the committee on public health and the committee on health care financing.
  • Over the last 10 years, the MNA has successfully passed into law legislation that required safer needle technology in hospitals, legislation requiring all health care workers in a hospital to wear ID badges so patients know the skill level of the people caring for them, legislation regulating the closures and mergers of hospitals, and legislation protecting employees who speak out against unsafe hospital practices (Whistleblower Protections). 


 

Q. What is the current MNA legislative agenda?  Who determines that agenda?

A.For information about the current legislative agenda, go to:  http://www.massnurses.org/legislation-and-politics/mna-bills

MNA is truly a member-driven organization, and it is the members that drive the process.

Here are just two examples:

  • RN Identification – The law that requires RNs to wear identification that clearly identifies them as RN grew directly from members who realized that hospitals were substituting aides for RNs, and patients had no way of telling the difference.
  • Safe RN staffing – The safe staffing push grew directly from members as conditions in hospitals dramatically changed in the 1990s.

Legislation to be considered for support or opposition may come from a variety of policy areas, including health care policy, nursing practice, health and safety, and workers’ rights/labor issues, just to name a few examples.  The ultimate responsibility for determining the MNA’s legislative agenda rests with the elected Board of Directors, and frequently ideas for legislation emerge directly from the Board.  However, recommendations to the Board can also come from a number of other avenues:

Congress on Health Policy and Legislation
With the growth of the MNA and the realization that MNA is the voice of health care, many outside organizations ask the MNA to “sign on” to legislation. The Congress on Health Policy and Legislation reviews and prioritizes health care-related bills brought to our attention by coalition partners.  The Congress makes recommendations to the Board of Directors, which makes all final decisions.  The Congress on Health Policy and Legislation can also develop ideas for new legislation, and works with Division staff to lobby for priority bills.  The Congress meets 4 - 10 times per year.

Congress on Nursing Practice
The Congress on Nursing Practice identifies practice issues impacting the nursing community, which need to be addressed through education, policy, legislation or position statements.  This congress meets once a month.

Congress on Health and Safety
The Congress on Health and Safety identifies issues and develops strategies to effectively deal with the health and safety issues affecting nurses and health care workers.  This Congress meets 8 - 10 times per year.

Labor Action Division
The MNA’s Labor Relations Division will frequently identify problems they see at the bargaining table time and again that could be corrected through legislation or regulation, and will bring those issues to the Board’s attention.


 

Q. How do I donate to the Mass Nurses Political Action Committee (PAC)?

A.There are several ways to donate to the PAC. You can make a monthly contribution the same way you pay your dues – through Union Direct or through a credit card. If you do not pay your dues monthly, you can either sign up or write a check to the Mass Nurses Political Action Committee.


 

Q. How is the PAC structured?  How can I get involved the PAC?

A.

There are 21 seats on the PAC Board.  Each seat serves for a 2-year term.  

There are:

  • 4 elected officers
  • 10 at-large elected members
  • 7 appointed seats

Any voting MNA member in good standing can run for a seat on the PAC.  Every year at Convention, the PAC conducts its own business meeting and election.  Elections for Chairperson and Treasurer are held during the odd years.  Elections for Vice-Chairperson and Secretary are held during the even years.  Each year, elections are held for 5 of the at-large seats. 

The seven appointed seats are allocated as follows:

  • MNA President = 1 seat
  • Chair of the Congress on Health Policy and Legislation = 1 seat
  • Each of the 5 Regional Councils appoint one representative = 5 seats

There are a variety of ways to support the Mass Nurses PAC.  You can:

  • Contribute to the PAC financially (PAC money is separate from your dues - by law).
  • Run for a seat on the PAC – help decide which candidates get endorsed!
  • Once an endorsement is made, participate in helping to elect a candidate! 


 

Q. Are my dues given to political candidates?

A.No. The Mass Nurses PAC is the entity that gives money directly to political candidates, and according to Massachusetts state law we must raise money for our PAC separate from dues.

 


 

Q. How do I vote absentee?

A.Go to your local town or city hall and ask to fill out an absentee ballot application.  You can also go to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s webpage and download an application at www.sec.state.ma.us. In the days before an election, you can actually cast your vote at your city or town hall, or you can request that the ballot be mailed to you. The deadline for applying for an absentee ballot is noon of the day before the election. If you do decide to vote by mail, make certain the application arrives at your local election office much earlier. You may mail or hand-deliver it back to the election office but must arrive before the close of the polls on Election Day (8:00 p.m. for state elections).


 

Q. I want to get involved!  What kinds of activities can I participate in? Who do I contact to get involved?

A.There are many different ways to become involved. A small sample is below.  To get involved in any of these activities, contact your Community Organizer (see Question #2 above):

  • Campaigns: It is critical that nurses and health care professionals help elect and re-elect candidates who will fight nurses and patients. The MNA’s Political Action Committee reviews candidates and endorses those who will be strong advocates as elected officials. Our staff can help you participate in whatever volunteer activities you may be interested in whether it be phone calls, knocking on voters’ doors, holding signs, volunteering to take a lawn sign or any other volunteer opportunities that come up.
  • In-district Meetings with Elected Officials: We often set up meetings with elected officials as part of our lobbying efforts. You are the most effective voice for nurses and patients and we put you in direct contact with your elected officials for this very reason.  We can help set you up with these meetings and prepare you for them.
  • Calling Elected Officials: In addition to working on campaigns and participating in meetings, the best way to continue to develop and maintain relationships with elected officials is to call them and communicate with them about how you feel about particular pieces of legislation. You are the best voice for your patients and your profession and regular contact will go a long way to keeping legislators informed on these critical issues.
  • State House Visits: Nurses can visit the State House for a number of different activities. There are rallies to participate in, days where we distribute literature to legislators, and public hearings where we can testify on the official record to legislators about critical patient care issues.
  • Participate in the Congress on Health Policy and Legislation: The Congress on Health Policy and Legislation reviews legislation brought to us by other organizations. The Congress makes recommendations to the Board of Directors to endorse, oppose or remain neutral on such legislation. The Congress can also write legislation to address issues that come up for recommendation to the Board.
  • Participate in the Mass Nurses PAC: See Question #9 above.

 

 

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