A dissenting opinion
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2009 Edition
By Jim Moura
On the day we voted to leave the American Nurses Association I spoke to you about why we needed to disaffiliate and form a strong and independent union. You answered my call. Through that historic vote, we affirmed our desire to model a staff nurse revolution where our concerns were central in the organization. It was the proudest day of my professional life. In part, our stated goal was to form a strong, staff nurse driven national organization.
On our instructions, the MNA’s Board of Directors has explored the development of a national union. However, I have reached the conclusion that the proposed national, called the National Nurses United, will compromise our financial autonomy and threaten the sustainability of the MNA over time. The cost to this membership will be $2.7 million in the first year and comprise 14 percent of the MNA budget. In four years time it will rise to over $3 million because of the national’s dues automatic escalator clause of 2.5 percent per year, something the MNA has previously opposed. Our previous national, the ANA, cost us $1.2 million per year.
Presently the MNA membership requires a right to ratify and approve all dues increases proposed by our MNA Board including any proposed national dues; this however will change with the MNA’s Board proposal. What I would like to have seen was a proposal where members authorize any proposed national dues ahead of the national’s convention. Our elected national delegates would then abide by our members majority vote at the national convention. The MNA Board would be required to withdraw from the national if the national proceeded with a dues increase not ratified by our members ahead of the national convention. At this time the MNA Board has failed to change its proposal to include these protections for our membership. If the national’s dues rise to an unsustainable level will they act swiftly to disaffiliate or withdraw? What if they believe the cost is sustainable and necessary as they do now? Must we mount a grass roots movement to sever our ties with a national over a future MNA Board’s objections or desire to remain in the national organization? I believe the MNA Board should safeguard these rights in our bylaws.
It is alleged a new national will improve MNA’s ability to protect our contracts, I respectfully disagree. A national of 150,000 members is not going to persuade Congress to pass mandatory RN ratios in health care. We could not accomplish this in Massachusetts despite spending millions and mobilizing the entire MNA these past eight years. California accomplished this without a national. The political atmosphere existing in California then does not exist nationally, nor does it in Massachusetts presently. We must challenge ourselves to find new approaches to accomplish our goals of safe staffing.
Furthermore, if the Employee Free Choice Act passes, the MNA will not need a national to improve union density in Massachusetts and New England. We will be able to do that for a lot less than the $2.7 million that we would be giving the national to accomplish that goal while maintaining our autonomy and control. We must weigh the cost of the national with the concrete benefits it will provide our members. Much of the stated benefits for the new national are speculative, rather than concrete, in nature.
I have come to value the MNA’s independence and our autonomy which few unions have. The current proposal as it stands does not protect these values and threatens to raise our dues to an unaffordable level in the worst recession since the great depression. I respectfully submit that now is not the time to do this and we must remain independent.
We are all MNA. Let us debate this with the conviction that no one is the enemy. We may have differences in opinion but we are brothers and sisters united whether or not we are in a national organization.