Reproduced with permission from Daily Labor Report, No. 56 (March 23, 2007) pp. B-1 - B-2. Copyright 2007 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) <http://www.bna.com>
After prolonged debate, the United American Nurses March 21 adopted a set of principles intended to guide the union's executive council in discussions about possible affiliations with other unions representing registered nurses.
In a rebuff to the Service Employees International Union, delegates to UAN's National Labor Assembly voted 66-52 to amend the set of principles put forward by the union's executive council.
The amendment, which was opposed by the executive council, instructed that body not to enter into any affiliation agreement, under which UAN would become a local of another union, would be required to conform to the constitution and bylaws of another union, or have its members become members of the other union.
Several hours of debate on the affiliation principles followed a keynote speech by Dennis Rivera, president of United Health Care East and 1199 New York, SEIU, who urged UAN to enter into a "partnership" with SEIU to unite the registered nurses of both unions into one entity of 200,000 nurses.
Rivera said UAN and SEIU officials have had "conversations about our ideas" to bring all nurses together under one roof, but do not have any "deal." He added, however, that SEIU has suggested that under such a partnership his union's 85,000 RNs would become members of UAN and UAN would keep its name and its leadership.
After prolonged debate following Rivera's presentation, the delegates adopted a resolution that set out the following principles to guide the executive council in its discussions with other unions concerning possible partnerships or affiliations:
The resolution also instructed the executive council to be as "transparent as possible" in its discussions with other unions and communicate regularly with the affiliates. Any affiliation agreement would be subject to ratification by the National Labor Assembly.
Some delegates appeared angry that Rivera was asked to address the assembly, since his union has withdrawn from the AFL-CIO and UAN still is an AFL-CIO affiliate. Others expressed distrust of SEIU, with one saying she did not believe that the union would "hand us 85,000 nurses."
In introducing Rivera, UAN President Cheryl Johnson said UAN has not always got along with 1199/SEIU. "We were a different organization then," she said, adding that "we now are confident of who we are -- a national union for nurses that is 100,000-plus members strong from coast to coast."
Noting that SEIU has 85,000 RNs, Johnson said "collaboration among nurses will help us solve our problems." She added that "our worlds overlap," with SEIU representing workers at some of the same hospitals where UAN represents nurses.
In response to some criticism about Rivera's appearance at the assembly, Johnson said UAN is talking to different groups representing nurses to find ways to work together. She also noted that in 2005 the NLA adopted a resolution authorizing the executive council to pursue discussions with other unions representing RNs concerning partnerships or affiliations (53 DLR A-8, 3/21/05 ).
SEIU wants to work together with UAN and it "was our obligation to bring that vision to you," Johnson told the delegates.
In his speech to the NLA, Rivera said SEIU currently represents 1million health care workers in 50 locals around the country, each with adifferent name. In the near future, he said, the union is going tocombine all its health care locals, give them one name, and "poll ourresources which will amount to $120 million" for organizing. Riveraadded that at that time SEIU could immediately take some of thoseresources and put them at UAN's disposal, so its members could persuade other nurses to join the organization,
Earlier this year, SEIU announced that Rivera would head SEIUHealthcare, a national health care union of nearly 1 million members from within SEIU (19 DLR A-9, 1/30/07). At that time, SEIU Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry told BNA that because RNs are "fractured and don't speak with one voice," SEIU was having a dialogue with other nurses' organizations about "partnering" with them. Henry said in the past, SEIU had said in order to partner with other nurses' groups, those groups would have to change their organizations to fit SEIU. Now SEIU is "willing to be more flexible in our organization so we can deepen our relationship" with other RN unions, she said.
Following his remarks, Rivera was asked numerous questions by delegates, with the vast majority of questions coming from nurses who are members of the New York State Nurses Association. One question dealt with the decision of SEIU to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO and the fact that UAN is an AFL-CIO affiliate. Rivera said the decision was made after long discussions and debate over the need for more aggressive organizing. He said SEIU felt an urgency in dealing with the problem of falling numbers of union members. Noting that his union remains affiliated with the AFL-CIO central labor councils in New York, Rivera added that if UAN agrees to a partnership with SEIU and decides to stay in the AFL-CIO, "we would welcome that."
In her opening speech to the assembly, Johnson noted that UAN has formed new partnerships to amplify the power of nurses. She cited UAN's involvement in RNs Working Together, a coalition of eight AFL-CIO unions representing 200,000 nurses who are working together on bargaining, organizing, legislation, and communications.
She also noted that more than a year ago, UAN and SEIU agreed on a "partnership to work together to fix our broken health care system and speak with a louder voice for union nurses and for the 2 million nurses who don't have a union." In January 2006, the two unions announced they had signed an accord to work together on organizing, collective bargaining, and advocating for changes in the health care system (19 DLR A-11, 1/30/06 )
During debate on various resolutions, several delegates claimed that they did not know about the current partnership agreement with SEIU that was concluded by the executive council. Johnson replied that a January 2006 resolution by the executive council to enter into a no-raid and partnership agreement with SEIU was sent to the affiliates and she mentioned it in her keynote to the NLA later that year.
Johnson told BNA March 22 that the latest talks with SEIU have been more "in depth" and the discussion has been about "hooking up" rather than just working together. She said she brought back the idea to "road test" it at the NLA to see whether there were any possibilities.
When asked whether the amendment about not becoming a local of another union was aimed at SEIU, Johnson said it was, but added that it was "redundant." The foremost priority of that resolution is for UAN to remain autonomous and not to become a local of any union, she said. She added that delegates just felt they needed to "say it more clearly."
The two-day UAN meeting March 21-22 took place less than two weeks after the AFL-CIO Executive Council conditionally approved, over Johnson's objections, allowing AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney to issue a charter to the 75,000-member California Nurses Association and its nationwide organizing arm, the National Nurse Organizing Committee (46 DLR B-1, 3/9/07).
In her address to the NLA, Johnson said with CNA joining the AFL-CIO, the "competition to organize nurses is about to heat up." She added that CNA's affiliation "changes the entire playing field."
While Johnson said the affiliation limits CNA's ability to raid existing bargaining units, it also "opens new pathways and support for them--the same backing from AFL-CIO that UAN has received."
According to Johnson, "the federation's constitutional process gives preferred organizing status to affiliates based on the money, staff, and planning they put into a campaign. And we all know CNA has lots of dollars and more than 70 organizers to put on the ground."
"If they get there first, the federation can tell UAN or any other union to stay out," Johnson said. She added that "any affiliate, any
state, that sits back complacently is in for a rude awakening, no matter how much you've done before."
"If we aren't there first, and maybe even if we are, CNA will be coming in to organize nurses who ought to be UAN members," she said.
Johnson told BNA that she believes that CNA should be given a provisional three-year charter with the AFL-CIO with a "large hammer" that if they violate the federation's constitution they will lose their charter.
Johnson said CNA has tried to "raid" units already represented by UAN and she is not convinced that the federation's "no-raiding" provisions will stop CNA. "It's not a good use of our members money" to have to fight another union," she added.
When asked whether UAN would leave the AFL-CIO because of the CNA charter, Johnson replied, "We won't leave. They suit us." But, she added that she would not be surprised to see CNA go into the AFL-CIO, take what nurses it can, and then leave.
With more than 34,000 members, NYSNA is the oldest and largest state nurses’ association in the nation. It is an influential union for RNs, representing nurses in New York and New Jersey. Offering a wide range of services to its members, NYSNA fosters high standards of nursing education and practice and works to advance the profession through legislative activity. It is a constituent of the American Nurses Association and of the United American Nurses, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.