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NY nurses convention
Members of the NYSNA at their October convention voted to withdraw from the ANA. The departure of 37,000 nurses leaves the ANA with just over 141,000 members.

Severing ties

New York nurses drop ANA, look to super union

By Ashok Selvam
Posted: November 10, 2012 - 12:01 am ET

The New York State Nurses Association has delivered another blow to the American Nurses Association's decreasing membership.

NYSNA members at the union's annual conference in late October voted to withdraw from the ANA. The next move could be joining the ANA's rival, National Nurses United, the so-called super union formed in 2009.

The departure of 37,000 nurses leaves the ANA with 141,370 members, an ANA spokeswoman confirmed. Membership has decreased nearly 32% since 2008, according to ANA reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department.

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NYSNA First Vice President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said a decision to join the NNU has not been made yet, but observers said that would be a natural landing spot for the New York nurses.

“I would be thrilled to be with my brothers and sisters from NYSNA again,” Jean Ross, an NNU co-president, said on the prospects of NYSNA joining NNU.

The NNU was created after members of United American Nurses along with the California and Massachusetts nurses associations merged in 2009. Since then, the state nurses associations including Maine, Michigan and Minnesota have defected and joined the NNU. NYSNA left UAN in 2008, right before the NNU officially formed. “They've taken large numbers from the ANA and brought them to the NNU to form a super union,” said Bruce Stickler, an attorney with Chicago-based Drinker Biddle & Reath.

Not many were shocked by the NYSNA's move. Last year, the ANA suspended the union after the NYSNA named Julie Pinkham interim executive director. Pinkham also serves as the head of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which is affiliated with NNU. But when the New York nurses made the leadership change last year, members said the appointment wasn't in anticipation of leaving the ANA.

“Our minds back then were on settling contracts and organizing members,” said the NYSNA's Sheridan-Gonzalez.

Sheridan-Gonzalez said the decision to disconnect came after seeing how Pinkham helped effectively lead while negotiating labor agreements. About 200 NYSNA members voted at their conference, and 91% of them voted to leave the ANA. The full union will have a chance to vote to restore the affiliation in six months

The NYSNA's reasons for leaving echo those of nurses in other states where associations have severed ties with the ANA, a professional association that includes managers and administrators in addition to rank-and-file nurses. Unions have contended that because the ANA's leadership is mostly composed of nurses holding managerial posts, the organization often acts as an extension of hospital administrations and against union interests.

The NNU, which counts about 185,000 members, favors more aggressive bargaining tactics than the ANA and pushes members to get others more politically involved, Stickler said. The ANA usually “takes the high road” when it comes to work stoppages.

The UAN, which grew out of the ANA, handled much of the labor organizing, while state unions, such as the NYSNA, lead labor negotiations, Sheridan-Gonzalez said. The NYSNA's yearlong suspension from the ANA came when the ANA accused the New York nurses of dual unionism after Pinkham's appointment. Having an NNU member working on behalf of ANA members didn't sit well with the ANA. Sheridan-Gonzalez said her union needed Pinkham's leadership and communication skills. The NYSNA has since formed a search committee for a permanent executive director and has already conducted interviews, a union spokesman said.

The Michigan Nurses Association, which also left the ANA for the NNU in 2009, and other Michigan unions campaigned for an amendment to the state's Constitution that would protect collective bargaining. Voters rejected Proposal 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot—52% to 48%—despite the NNU's aggressive support of the amendment.

Many NNU members say that type of support from the national organization highlights a difference in philosophy between the ANA and the NNU. Another example is the support the NNU has given to members of the Staff Nurses Association, a 660-member union that conducted a three-day strike last week at 272-bed Santa Rosa (Calif.) Memorial Hospital.

“Nurses have made phenomenal gains since they've left ANA, and again since we've banded together as NNU,” Ross said. “They've made up for lost time.”

The power that the NNU wields and its more aggressive tactics make it attractive to affiliate with, Stickler said. “And we're going to see more in the spring,” he said, noting that labor talks could be contentious between hospitals and the Minnesota Nurses Association, an NNU affiliate.

The ANA issued a three-paragraph statement in response to the NYSNA's departure and indicated its members were not surprised.

“Despite protests to the contrary, it's been apparent that this was the NYSNA board's goal since last fall when they appointed a leader of National Nurses United to run the organization,” ANA President Karen Daley said in the statement.

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