Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association voted overwhelmingly late last month to cut ties with the national American Nurses Association after two previous disaffiliation votes last year failed by narrow margins.
The 1,925-413 vote is nonbinding, however, because the MNA is required by court order to make provisions for its members who didn't vote at a special meeting March 24 in Worcester, Mass., because they were working or following religious observances.
The MNA's vote indicates a growing militancy among the nation's nurses. The Maine State Nurses Association has scheduled an April 28 vote on disaffiliation from the ANA.
The more-activist MNA sees the ANA as too moderate and not aggressive enough in tackling issues facing nurses, such as staffing shortages and mandatory overtime. Divorcing the ANA also would save the Massachusetts group more than $1 million annually. The MNA is the second-largest state association in the ANA, exceeded in size only by New York's.
ANA President Mary Foley said she doesn't view the national group as being too moderate and said she will be disappointed if the MNA eventually succeeds in pulling out. "I am disappointed because I think nurses in Massachusetts will be poorly represented," she said.
Foley said the ANA will have a special membership arrangement for Massachusetts nurses who want to remain ANA members. The ANA has more than 180,000 members.
The Massachusetts association would be the second state nurses group to withdraw from the ANA. The California Nurses Association, an aggressive union, seceded from the national organization six years ago.
However, a federal judge in Boston prohibited the MNA from holding a binding vote without first making provisions for people who couldn't attend the meeting. The judge's March 23 order was part of a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by three Massachusetts nurses.
The nurses filed suit in U.S. District Court in Boston to stop the MNA from voting until such special arrangements could be made.
MNA spokesman David Schildmeier said the association is developing a way to let those nurses, who were working or who couldn't attend because of religious observances, to vote. Schildmeier could not estimate the total votes outstanding. The MNA has about 20,000 members. In the nurses' lawsuit, they estimated 3,400 nurses would miss voting because they had to work.
But MNA leaders aren't worried that additional votes will alter the push to leave the ANA.
"I think it's going to make it rise," Julie Pinkham, MNA's executive director, said of the tally of members who want to secede. Pinkham, a registered nurse, estimated the total number of votes to divorce from the ANA likely would increase because many of the MNA members who work Saturday are staff nurses who are in favor of disaffiliation.
The MNA's latest vote comes four months after a leadership shake-up and the installation of a new regime specifically to pursue disaffiliation. Two votes last November just failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to change the bylaws and leave the ANA.
Foley said the departure of the California nurses, and now maybe the Massachusetts nurses, from the national association is not an indication that the ANA's base of support is eroding.
"Two bookends don't make a country," she said.