News & Events

The birth of a National Nurses Union

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
January/February 2010 Edition

By Deb Rigiero
Associate Director, Organizing

View more photos from the founding convention

On December 7, 2009, 134 delegates from across the country unanimously participated in the birth of the National Nurses United (NNU). Many guests also were there to witness the historic occasion. After many years of failed attempts to form a national union for staff nurses, and after eight months of hard work, the dream of thousands of direct care nurses became a reality. As with any birth, there were tears, cheers, and hugs all around. Everything went smoothly; the officers were quickly nominated and elected, and charged with leading the NNU. The registered nurses in the room felt the excitement of this achievement as well as the weight of the work and challenges the NNU will face in the future. All are prepared to make sure that the goals and dreams of the NNU will not only be met and but will be exceeded in the upcoming years.

Firsts: Wasting no time, the NNU has its first collective action!

Dec. 8: Hundreds of newly empowered RN members of the NNU picketed the headquarters of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AHHA). The message to the AHHA and all hospital associations was clearly sent by all three of the NNU’s co-presidents. “We will not be silenced, we will not be stopped,” said Jean Ross, NNU co-president. As Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of NNU and past president of MNA said, “We will not go away until we win the protections that our patients need.” Her message to the AHHA and all other hospital groups who oppose safe staffing and RN’s unionizing is: “When you fight with one of us, you fight with all of us.” It was an energizing first event for the NNU with nurses chanting, “We’re nurses united we will never

FYI: An interesting comment about the NNU from John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, a management-oriented publication, describes the fears of hospital management the best: “The unions are coming. They’re bigger and better organized than ever before, and the wind is at their back. Are you ready?”

The delegates and guests at the birth of NNU would like to share their thoughts on this historic event.

Donna Stern, Baystate Franklin Medical Center: “Collectively we can do anything. For the first time I feel so empowered. You have to walk through your fears.”

Ann Lewin, Baystate Franklin Medical Center: “By being there at the moment, I felt as if not only was I present at a very historical event, but that we are tapping into a progressive vibration. It is very thrilling!”

Ellen Farley, Unit 7 Taunton State Hospital: “I texted my daughter, yes I’m crying! It has become very evident with all the changes that we need a national voice in D.C. for changes our patients need! I can’t wait to go back and share the excitement with my colleagues.”

Sandy Eaton, Quincy Medical Center: “Of course I rejoice but now the challenge is to make it work. We need one strong voice, undiluted, clear, going forward. People need what we have to offer, we are here for the good of all the country.”

Diane Michael, Providence Hospital: “I love our union. Look at what we’ve done, what we plan to do and join us.”

Karen Higgins, Boston Medical Center, Co-President NNU: “You have to believe in the ultimate goal, that what you are doing is right. Staff nurses are the backbone of healthcare. We have now taken back our power, our practice and are there for our patients.

“What I see in the future is NNU celebrating in a stadium in 10 years. I only see this getting bigger. I say welcome to the new world of what nursing will become in the future. This is only the beginning. I hope to be international one day.”

Marie Ritacco, St. Vincent’s Hospital: “I felt unity today. The solidarity was incredible. We are ready; we know what we need to do to protect our patients, our practice, and ourselves. We have a lot of work but I am excited and energized.”

Ellen Smith, UMass-University: “Today I saw the future of the union: the exuberance was unbelievable. The train is pulling out, you need to come along because there are bigger and brighter things in the future and we have the power, there is strength in numbers.”

Kathy Reardon, Norwood Hospital: “The energy was just incredible today. Get on the bus, we are moving forward and will be a freight train across the USA.”

Joan Ballantyne-Norwood Hospital: “No matter where we are, together we can resolve these issues; separately we are going nowhere. This is the start! Today is the first day.”

Kay Marshall, Anna Jacques Hospital: “I learned a lot from where we were, where we have been and where we are going and we all have to go there-together.”

Mike D’Intinosanto, Unit 7 Templeton: “We did it! We finally have a National Nurses Union for staff nurses to fight for our patients, by unanimous consent. I am still walking on air.”

Kathie Logan, UMass University: “I can retire knowing that there will be a legacy for new nurses that will be able to help them overcome the hurdles we had to overcome. To make it better for the nurses, the working conditions of the nurses, and make it better for the patient because that is what this is all about, the patient.”

Lynne Starbard, UMass Memorial: “We are not alone. We are all working to the same goals: safe patient care and good working conditions for our nurses. We can give everyone the opportunities we have had in Massachusetts and all work together.”

Patty Healey, Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “The feeling of power and energy in the room was focused on really looking into the future and being able to have a powerful staff nurses union. It’s going to happen. Finally I can look at all these other nurses from different states and say sister!”

Kathy Borenstein, Newton Wellesley Hospital: “The collective energy that happened here today was amazing. We have the power to make a change in the way things are being done. Together we have the voice.”

Garry Kellenberger-Unit 7 Westborough State: “This was a historic vote that brought all working staff nurses together in one union. It was exhilarating!”

Donna Dudik, Boston Medical Center: “The message I will bring back to my colleagues is Hope. We can really do this. Times may be hard, we need to unite, and we can really do this!”

Nora Watts, Newton Wellesley Hospital: “The reality of finally having a National Nurses Union to be there among so many friends and colleagues from across the country was overwhelming.”

Terri Arthur: “This was a hundred years in the making. To be here and to be a part of all the energy and synergism was great.” We are proud to announce the birth of a new national nurses union that will be the largest Size: 150,000 members and growing registered nurses union in the country.


Vital Statistics

Name: National Nurses United (NNU for short)
Birth Date: December 7, 2009
Where: Phoenix, Arizona
Size: 150,000 members and growing