News & Events

Nurses union rallies Phoenix support

By Angela Gonzales
Phoenix Business Journal

The nation’s largest nurses union is in Phoenix this week, rallying nurses to join the club.

The 150,000-member National Nurses United held its convention Dec. 7-8, followed by a rally in front of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association’s offices in Phoenix.

The hospital association has been instrumental in helping its hospital members oppose a union over the past several years.

John Rivers, president and CEO of the state hospital association, said the union is interested in attracting more dues-paying members.

“Their push for mandatory nurse staffing ratios is simply a marketing strategy designed to increase dues income,” he said. “Union efforts on this issue have nothing to do with whether patients are better served by mandatory ratios which, by the way, have been an abysmal failure in California.”

Instead, he said, nurse staffing should be based solely on the needs of the patient.

Jennifer Mensik, a nurse at Banner Healthcare and president of the Arizona Nurses Association, said nurses have the right to choose a union to represent them, but said the association prefers they use their own voices instead of choosing a union.

“Unions will talk about patient safety, but at the end of the day, they really haven’t been able to prove they have done anything to help patient safety,” she said. "The research they provide is their own research.”

Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, spoke at the rally, in support of a nurse’s union.

“We certainly believe that if there’s a group of employees that want to have a union, they should have the right to have a union,” Friend said.

She said the rally was held in front of the hospital association’s offices to tell the association to stay out of the debate.

“Here are employees who want this union,” she said. “Quit interfering.”

One Phoenix nurse, Debbie Rice, spoke at the rally, but declined to reveal the hospital she works for because she feared losing her job.

“This is not unusual in organizing drives for employees to be afraid or intimidated,” Friend said. “This is a right-to-work state and an employer can fire you without cause. There is a fear amongst people trying to organize to belong to a union of losing their jobs.”

Friend said it was courageous of Rice to speak at the rally.

“Any time a worker steps out like that with a hostile employer, you’re targeting yourself.”

At the convention, delegates unanimously endorsed creation of the National Nurses United union, a combination of three nurses unions across the country: California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses and Massachusetts Nurses Association. Neither of those nurse associations are part of the national nurse association, which is against unionization, Mensik said.

Karen Higgins, a nurse from Massachusetts, was one of the three newly elected presidents of NNU, told the delegates “the promise of the future has arrived."