News & Events

Present at the birth: The National Nurses Movement

By Chico David RN

I’m writing from Phoenix Arizona where I just spent the morning with hundreds of nurses from around the country finalizing the creation of the new nurses union that will transform health care in America: National Nurses United.  Nurses and leaders from The California Nurses Assn./National Nurses Organizing Committee, the United American Nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Assn are meeting to create a new union that will stretch from coast to coast and unite 150,000 nurses into a powerful force for our profession and our patients.

At the opening reception last night the excitement was palpable as nurses from many states shared their happiness at the step we were about to take.  Here are just a few quotes:

From Jean Ross of the UAN and now co-president of the new NNU:

This is where we need to be, together as one, moving across the country.  some of us have been waiting our whole careers for this

From Karen Higgins of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and another new co-president:

This is a dream come true for all of us.  I believe staff nurses are the voice for patients and nurses across this country.

From Deborah Burger of CNA/NNOC and the third co-president:

We have got our work cut out for us when this convention is over, to make sure we organize evry single direct care RN in this country.  RNs and our patients deserve to have a national nurses movement that can advocate for them. 

We still have a long way to go before we can bring all nurses into a single organization and a single political force, but today we took the first giant step in that direction.  Today we brought 150,000 nurses under one organizational umbrella with a single goal and philosophy: National Nurses United.

The business meeting this morning became more of a festival as the delegates from across the country voted unanimously to establish our constitution, confirm our officers and declare the existence of our new organization.  We had the thrilling experience of hearing from one of the greatest speakers in the American Labor movement: Stewart Acuff of the AFL/CIO.  Stewart’s speaking style comes out of the great tradition of southern church oratory and he outdid himself today.  He had that room full of nurses on our feet over and over, chanting, roaring approval and often with tears in our eyes.  He exhorted us to set our sights high – not only to organizing nurses for collective bargaining, but to pass the Employee Free Choice Act:

The greatest economic stimulus would to be restore to the working men and women of America the right to bargain collectively for their fair share of the fruits of their labor

And to continue to work for real health care reform:

so that access to quality health care is a human right, not an investment opportunity for the rich

After Stewart, our neighbors to the north, in the person of Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, also came to show their support and offer their help.  Linda is a great speaker in any normal company, but had the unenviable task of following Stewart.  She rose to the occasion and left us on our feet and dancing.

And tonight, we’ll finish the night with a great party.  Tomorrow, setting the tone for the new organization, we will be demonstrating outside the Arizona Hospital Association.  We’re serving notice to our employers that we are here with new force, new strength, new energy and that we will be spreading out across America in the weeks and months to come, organizing thousands of nurses with the very clear goal of transforming healthcare in America.

We nurses know as well as anyone that whatever is passed in the next few weeks in Washington is not going to be the final answer to America’s healthcare crisis.  At best, it will make some improvements and be a step on the road.  The overriding goal of our new organization is to reach the day when every patient has equal access to quality care, every nurse can advocate for their patients’ needs without fear and American health care is controlled by care givers, not bean counters.