National Nurses Union Update
By Beth Piknick, RN, MNA President and Julie Pinkham, RN, MNA Executive Director
As announced on February 18, 2009, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA); the United American Nurses (UAN); and California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC), subject to their members’ ratification, have reached an agreement to join together to form a new 150,000 member national nurses union that will be called the United American Nurses-National Nurses Organizing Committee, UAN-NNOC (AFL-CIO).
As a follow-up to the announcement, we are providing a more detailed update on this historic agreement.
In 2001 MNA held a special meeting in Worcester for members to vote on disaffiliating from the American Nurses Association (ANA). That vote, the largest gathering of registered nurses in Massachusetts history, affirmed, by overwhelming numbers, the MNA membership’s desire to free themselves from an organization that not only failed to represent their views on the national stage, but indeed pushed for positions that were adverse to the interests of frontline staff nurses. The ANA’s continued position against RN-to-patient ratios is but one example of this. Immediately following that meeting, the following resolution for the formation of a new national nurses union was put on the floor of the meeting and adopted overwhelmingly. The text of that motion follows:
…Secondly, we hear you clearly to say that a national voice is a must for us. Therefore, we have planned to meet immediately with members from the California Nurses Association, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, two other likeminded independent associations, to start the process of building a national.
In the years following disaffiliation, the membership has built MNA into a strong and powerful advocate for staff nurses and our patients. That work has been recognized nationally and we remain committed to advancing the issues of staff nurses, not only in our state, but in coordination with likeminded organizations. The MNA for years has worked with the California Nurses Association, including the filing of federal legislation to prohibit the use of mandatory overtime and to coordinate position statements before the National Labor Relations Board. We have also supported their organizing efforts in Tenet-owned facilities. More recently, we have also kept contact and relationships with affiliates of the United American Nurses, including the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Michigan Nurses Association. Most recently, we have been meeting to share and evaluate strategies surrounding RN-to-patient ratio legislation as each of these states is at the point of pursuing their own version of a safe staffing bill. Both these organizations are affiliates of the AFL-CIO.
Similarly, our local bargaining units and regions have been developing relationships in their communities with many of the bargaining units actively involved the Central Labor Councils of the AFL-CIO. These relationships have allowed members to both give and receive support during contract struggles, as well as, provided tremendous support for our nurse-to-patient ratio bill.
More recently at MNA’s 2008 Convention the membership, in recognition of the sea change taking place in the national political landscape, recognized both the threat and opportunity that exist as the change in leadership of our nation changed to one more favorable to union democracy in the workplace.
The following motion was brought forward by members and passed overwhelmingly:
In these challenging times for patients and nurses, the voice of organized nurses cannot remain fractured. We, the MNA members, charge and authorize the MNA Board of Directors to participate as architects of an independent, national nurses union run by and for nurses; which would represent a majority of the nation’s unionized nurses; and to bring back that opportunity for a vote by the MNA membership.
While MNA left ANA in 2001, CNA (California Nurses Association) left ANA in 1995 for reasons much the same as ours and over time they formed a national presence by forming NNOC (National Nurses Organizing Committee). And now in 2008, the UAN (United American Nurses), formerly the labor arm of the ANA, has disaffiliated from the ANA with the affiliate bodies of the UAN formerly taking votes to disaffiliate and the Assembly of the UAN formerly voting to disaffiliate. Again, for much the same reasons as CNA and MNA, the UAN found the American Nurses Association directly contradicted the interests of direct care nurses and they were no longer willing to fund or be undermined by such an organization.
In the wake of this series of events these three organizations, finally free from the ANA, have reached out to one another to explore the formation of a new national union to help all nurses join a union run by and for registered nurses.
The need for a powerful national voice has never been more important. The pressure on nurses, particularly in times of financial crisis, continues to increase. Today, more and more labor organizations are seeking to represent nurses, which will only continue to result in a fractured and disjointed voice for nurses ill prepared to meet the challenges we face.
Finally, with the election of Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, the prospect for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation to make it easier to organize nurses, is very strong which presentsa tremendous opportunity to mobilize and organize registered nurses across the nation for the betterment of all nurses and patients.
The three organizations agreed to the following principles:
"Under the principle that RNs should be represented by an RN union," the statement declared, "we resolve to create a new union of staff nurse-led organizations named UAN-NNOC" to:
- "Build an RN movement in order to defend and advance the interests of direct care nurses across the country;
- "Organize all non-union direct care RNs (a substantial majority of the budget shall be dedicated to new organizing);
- "Provide a powerful national voice for RN rights, safe RN practice, including safe RN-to-patient staffing ratios under the principle that safe staffing saves lives, and health care justice;
- "Provide a vehicle for solidarity with sister nurse and allied organizations around the world;
- "Create a national Taft-Hartley pension for union RNs." (Taft-Hartley pension is a union/employer run defined-benefit pension with the union having equal votes. Many other unions currently enjoy this benefit, but nurses have not due to their fragmentation).
Some Common and Immediate Questions:
What is the process to create this union going forward?
The next step in the process is for members from the MNA Board to work with the leadership from the other participating organizations to begin the work of fleshing out the details, which includemodifying the existing UAN constitution and structure to accommodate the CNA/NNOC and MNA unification and culture. Once this has been worked out, the MNA Board will craft and present to the membership aproposal, which would then be voted on and ratified by the MNA membership at our annual business meeting at the MNA Convention in October. The UAN and CNA/NNOC memberships will also need to have this agreement ratified by their membership for new national to be founded.
What happens to the MNA?
The MNA would be an affiliate member of the national organization. As an affiliate member, the MNA’s current structure and bylaws, etc. will remain intact. There may be greater roles for MNA as new members are organized, not only in Massachusetts, but beyond our borders in surrounding states who are not affiliates.
What about dues?
A per capita dues (dollar figure per member) for the new national must and will be part of any vote taken by our membership.
What is the timeline?
Each organization has its business meeting/convention scheduled prior to November of 2009. It is the goal of the organizations to see that the recommended proposals are voted on no later than November. The UAN would be the first organization to vote on adopting constitutional changes to unify and accommodate the CNA/NNOC and the MNA. CNA/NNOC and MNA voting would then follow.
How can you receive further information?
As the process unfolds and we have greater details we will continue to post this information on the MNA website at www.massnurses.org. We encourage you to email questions to the MNA Division of Communication in order that we address the questions and feedback in a coordinated and helpful manner. For more information email David Schildmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, it has been a century in waiting for the arrival of the first ever, and largest, staff nurse run national nurses union and movement. You, as MNA members, will have the opportunity to create that long awaited history. This day could not have arrived without your vision and leadership.