News & Events

New Nurses Union Vows To Fight For Progressive Health-Care Reform

By Susie Madrak
Crooks and Liars

This is really great news for all of us. It’s good for healthcare reform, because nurses are on the front lines of delivering care. And if you’ve had a loved one in the hospital, you know how strained resources are. A more powerful nurses union is a good way to make sure people get the care they need:

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Three nurses unions merged on Monday to form the largest-ever labor organization for U.S. medical professionals, which is expected to wield greater clout in collective bargaining and the national health care debate.

Organizers said the new 150,000-member National Nurses United, comprising union locals from Maine to Hawaii, would use its strength to fight for patients’ rights, higher health care standards and better working conditions for nurses.

Deborah Burger, president elect of the NNU and head of its largest constituent union, the California Nurses Association, called the merger a big step.

"It’s a huge day … not only for the nursing profession, but also for our patients," she said. "We will be able to go to the halls of Congress and advocate for stronger patient protection, for better health care."

The merger, approved unanimously by delegates at a founding convention in Phoenix, unifies the CNA, which has 83,000 members in California and several other states; the United American Nurses, with 45,000 members, mostly in the Midwest, and the 22,000-member Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The move comes as President Barack Obama is battling to rally support for his top domestic priority, an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system that extends coverage to millions of uninsured people and curtails spiraling costs.

[…]Burger said the merger would likely lend powerful support for the more progressive aims of the overhaul, but she said Obama’s plan would not go far enough.

"What we’ve got now isn’t really health care reform, it’s a reshuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic as far as our patients are concerned, and we’re going to make sure that we … have universal healthcare that is truly universal and has eliminated the insurance companies," she told Reuters.

Aside from a bigger voice in the health care debate, the merger is expected to give nurses greater leverage in collective bargaining after decades of growth in national hospital chains that have largely resisted union organizing.

Organized labor sees a big opportunity to bolster its ranks in the health care industry, a sector that has continued to create jobs during the recession and is expected to see 20 percent employment growth above 2006 levels by 2016, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics.