Healthcare providers can expect more union organizing drives, tougher contract negotiations and greater pressure for union-friendly legislation at the state and federal level now that two influential healthcare labor groups have signed a formal truce, insiders and observers say.
Can't we all just get along?
SEIU, CNA/NNOC say yes after signing agreement
Only last year, the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union and the 80,000-member California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee were raiding each others’ membership and issuing blistering statements about one another. No more, the two organizations say. On March 19, they signed what they called a “transformative cooperation agreement” in which the SEIU, the nation’s fastest-growing union, will begin cooperating with the CNA/NNOC, which is both a union and an association representing registered nurses spread across the country.
The agreement follows the Feb. 18 announcement that the CNA/NNOC had signed a joint statement to merge with two other nursing labor groups, the United American Nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Association. If joined, those three groups would have a combined 150,000 RNs in their ranks.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That’s what this is,” said K. Bruce Stickler, a partner and labor lawyer with Drinker Biddle & Roth representing healthcare management. “The announced targets are the largest healthcare systems in the United States.”
California union spokesman Charles Idelson declined to speculate on what the new acronym might be for a union composed of the SEIU, CNA/NNOC, UAN and MNA.
Although union officials claimed that joint operating talks between the SEIU and the CNA/NNOC have been under way for a year, both unions have publicly aired grievances about one another. An SEIU campaign to organize 8,100 workers at Catholic Healthcare Partners’ hospitals in Ohio was halted last year on the eve of voting after an aggressive CNA/NNOC campaign to stop the new units from forming (March 17, 2008, p. 17). Weeks later, SEIU officials sent busloads of members to a Dearborn, Mich., conference hall to force their way into a labor meeting where a CNA/NNOC speaker was scheduled.
In separate interviews last week, the heads of the two unions said that their organizations have turned a corner and intend to push an aggressive agenda in favor of a single-payer system, the Employee Free Choice Act and nurse-to-patient ratios like those in California, among other issues.
“If we want to do this, we can’t afford to let our tactics be more important than our goals,” SEIU President Andy Stern said. “A lot of the differences were sort of how to do things, not what needed to be done. I never thought there was a difference between ourselves and the nurse organizations about the need to have more representation.”
CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro acknowledged that some of her past statements about SEIU’s “appalling track record” and “brutal indifference” toward workers were over-the-top. And she agreed with Stern that President Barack Obama’s strong push for healthcare reform was the driving force behind the new alliance. “We’ve got an opportunity in history here with the Obama administration, and we’d be foolish not to act,” DeMoro said.
Under the new agreement, the CNA/NNOC will become the main group organizing the RNs in most states, while the SEIU will focus on the other healthcare job classifications. But the SEIU is not transferring its current 80,000 registered nurse members to the CNA/NNOC, and the SEIU will continue organizing RNs in a handful of states where it already has an overwhelming presence, Stern said.
In Florida, the SEIU and CNA/NNOC intend to form a new joint union to organize healthcare workers, and in Nevada the two unions plan to form a joint legal and political group that recognizes both groups have distinct memberships working toward a common goal. He said details are still being sorted out regarding who would organize Ohio workers.
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