Healthcare Business News

Nurses union moves to boost clout by teaming up with teachers

By Ashok Selvam
Posted: February 14, 2013 - 3:45 pm ET

Members of the National Federation of Nurses said affiliating with the American Federation of Teachers will give them the leverage they need to improve working conditions and protect themselves from unfair attacks from hospital management.

Affiliation talks have been ongoing for the past year, said NFN President Barbara Crane in a Thursday conference call with reporters. Over the next few weeks, NFN membership will finalize the deal that will combine their 34,000 members with the 1.2 million members of the AFT. About 48,000 of AFT's members are nurses. The move brings together two of the more vocal union groups—teachers and nurses—and continues a trend seeing smaller unions partner with larger collective bargaining units. Last month the 10,000 members of National Union of Healthcare Workers combined with the 95,000 California Nurses Association.

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“At a time when the healthcare industry is rapidly changing, nurses need a voice in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

NFN, which represents state nurses association members in Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Washington, said they'll welcome AFT's money and manpower, which could help grow their national organization. Assistance in organizing and passing legislation is at a premium.

“The NFN really hasn't had that before,” said Chris Cimino, president and CEO of Chicago-based Chessboard Consulting.

While the move should energize membership in states that already have an NFN presence, Cimino isn't sure if the move will attract non-affiliated groups, like the Illinois Nurses Association.

The parent of the California Nurses Association, the 185,000-member National Nurses United, wants to create a national labor agenda for nurses, which was one of the goals NFN members stressed on Thursday's call. NNU co-president Jean Ross said NFN did not ask to join with her organization. Both groups come from a common lineage, forming in 2009 after breaking away from the American Nurses Association. NFN officials said the ANA was among the first to congratulate them on the new affiliation, and the ANA issued a statement that included a quote from NFN's Crane.

Crane defended the agreement from NNU's assertion that her members would be best served by joining a union comprised of only nurses. She said unions need to make affiliations to protect themselves from attacks coming from administration. Hospital heads are targeting worker salary and benefits thanks to tighter spending and healthcare reform. Crane compared the NFN-AFT deal to CNA's own affiliation with NUHW: “I was really surprised (NNU) would cast themselves like that because they are also looking to join with others to deal with all those challenges,” Crane said.

Ross reiterated NNU objections, and said NFN members wouldn't be best served by joining the AFT, a union whose agenda is dominated by the interests of educators. NFN shunned an invitation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for the AFT. Ross said there were no talks with NNU and NFN to affiliate.

“You really think the ACA is going to be on the top minds of educators?” Ross said.

The move provides NFN with protection from losing members to NNU. The AFT and NNU are members of the AFL-CIO, which prohibits raids between member unions. NNU officials on Thursday said they resent any insinuation that they would raid other unions and said their growth came from convincing non-affiliated nurses that the NNU provided them with the best representation.

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