News & Events

Delegates to Founding NNU Convention Adopt Constitution, Elect Union’s Officers

By Michelle Amber
Bureau of National Affairs

PHOENIX—The first national union of direct care registered nurses became a reality Dec. 7 as delegates to the founding convention of National Nurses United adopted a constitution and elected officers to lead the 150,000-member union.

In opening the convention, which she called the “continental Congress of a national nurses’ movement,” Karen Higgins, a former president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, who was elected as one of three co-presidents of NNU, declared that the creation of the “largest union of direct care nurses is about a century overdue.” To thunderous applause she warned health care employers that if “you seek to undermine the rights of one nurse, you’ll now have to answer to every nurse.”

The new union is being formed through the consolidation of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the United American Nurses, and the MNA. While several former officers of UAN and one of its affiliates, the Illinois Nurses Association, had sought a court injunction to keep the merger from occurring, a federal judge ruled Dec. 3 that the formation of the new union could go forward (232 DLR A-12, 12/7/09). Officials from affiliates that opposed the merger did not attend the convention in Phoenix, nor did individual merger opponents within those affiliates. It remained unclear Dec. 7 whether opponents would continue their legal challenges to the merger.

Groups Had Been Part of ANA

All three unions that make up the merged union once had been affiliated with the American Nurses Association, but CNA and MNA left over disagreements with the leadership, which was made up mainly of nurse managers and supervisors rather than rank-and-file nurses, on how staff nurses were represented by the organization. CNA was the first to leave in 1995, followed by MNA in 2001. UAN had been an autonomous affiliate of ANA since the parties signed a five-year affiliation agreement in January 2003, but ANA terminated the affiliation agreement in June 2008 (125 DLR A-10, 6/30/08).

Of 152 eligible delegates to the convention, 134 had registered by the start of the two-day meeting. They included members from CNA/NNOC, which represents nurses in California, Texas, Nevada, Maine, and Pennsylvania; members from MNA; and members from UAN affiliates in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, and the Veteran’s Administration, where UAN represents nurses in 12 states.

Major Objectives of NNU

Walt Frederickson, the UAN executive director, who will have a senior management role in the new union, outlined the five major objectives of the new union:

  • to build a movement to defend and advance the interests of direct care nurses in solidarity with other nurse and allied organizations around the world;
  • to unite and organize all direct care RNs into a single organization “capable of exercising maximum influence over the health care industry, governments, and employers;
  • to win quality health care for all, as a human right;
  • to provide effective collective bargaining representation to NNU members and support to NNU affiliates to promote economic and professional interests of direct care RNs; and
  • to advocate for direct care nurses and patients on public policy matters such as safe nurse-to-patient ratios and patient advocacy rights.

NNU will be governed by an executive council, which comprises three co-presidents, a secretary-treasurer, and 11 vice presidents. In addition to Higgins, the other co-presidents elected by the delegates were Jean Ross, the former secretary-treasurer of UAN, and Deborah Burger, a former co-president of CNA/NNOC.

Delegates elected Martha Kuhl from CNA/NNOC, as secretary-treasurer of the new union. The 11 vice presidents include six from CNA/NNOC, four from UAN affiliates including two from the Minnesota Nurses Association, one from the Michigan Nurses Association, and one from the District of Columbia Nurses Association, who was elected by UAN delegates; and one from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro is expected to be named executive director of the new union by the executive council at its first meeting Dec. 8.

An ‘Organizing Machine.’

DeMoro told BNA Dec. 7 that NNU will have offices and staff in both Washington, D.C., and Chicago. She said that NNU will be an “organizing machine” with its biggest priority to organize all the unorganized nurses in the country. While she said organizing drives will begin immediately after the convention, she declined to identify any specific targets.

DeMoro said that NNU will create a national organizing structure that will include the “best talent that exists” in each of the states. “We will start with who we have, and hire significant [additional] staff” for organizing, she added.

In addition, NNU will have staff with responsibilities for representation, legislative/political action, communications, research, and administration.

DeMoro said the whole structure of the new union will be “fluid” and it will be taking an inventory of what various affiliates have to minimize duplication. For example, if the Minnesota Nurses Association has something that could be useful to the entire union, that will be put in place, she said.

In addition to organizing, the NNU will be seeking to achieve the highest legislative and collective bargaining standards around the country, DeMoro said. “You can’t have nurse-staffing ratios in just one state; we need to have ratios in every state,” she added.

The NNU affiliates will be responsible for individual collective bargaining contracts, while NNU will be responsible for bargaining for RNs organized in national chains or national health care systems, DeMoro said. She said an NNU goal is for national coordination so that the power of nurses in each chain is equal to the power of the employer. “We will work to leverage power in the United States to achieve our goals,” she added.

To finance the new union, delegates approved a dues structure of $136.40 per member per year, with automatic increases of 2.5 percent in each year, beginning Jan. 1, 2011. DeMoro said the dues amount is roughly what members of CNA/NNOC and UAN had been paying, but members in Massachusetts, who were paying considerably less in dues, had to approve an increase to match the new union’s dues.

Under the affiliation agreement, all UAN employees, who are represented by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild of the Communications Workers of America, will be offered comparable employment with NNU. Any UAN employee who either refuses an offer for employment or is no longer employed by NNU on June 30, 2010, will receive severance pay, according to the agreement.

The NNU will continue to be affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and will seek a charter from the AFL-CIO that supersedes the charter currently held by UAN. The parties also will seek the continuation of the two AFL-CIO executive council seats currently held by the president of UAN and the executive director of CNA/NNOC.