NEW YORK NURSE: May 2009
Formation of an unofficial caucus of union members is a protected right under the Landrum-Griffin Act (LMRDA). Throughout its history NYSNA has seen a number of caucuses.
In 2007, twenty-three members formed Concerned Nurses of NYSNA. They sought objective information about issues, greater empowerment of rank and file members, and to uphold democratic processes they felt were being violated.
They created the NYSNA Nurses for Unity campaign, believing that disaffiliation from the national union, UAN, was undertaken hastily and undemocratically. Concerns were shared with every NYSNA leadership body but met much resistance. Requests for a survey of the membership and a discussion forum were denied. With a window of only several days, and denied internal distribution of alternative views, the caucus sought outside assistance. Their message was to delay decision on disaffiliation until more education and deliberation could occur on this critical issue.
A vehement counter campaign against the caucus ensued. Attacks dominated meetings, drowning out dissenting opinions and any real discussion about issues related to disaffiliation. The campaign culminated in disciplinary charges against caucus members.
After the caucus engaged counsel, the board of directors conceded the caucus’ actions were protected under free speech rights. The board, however, expressed “outrage” at the group’s actions, publicly reprimanding them in letters and meetings. The names of those who had faced charges were published here in violation of NYSNA’s own discipline policy.
Three members seated on the board were sanctioned for “engaging in public dissension.” Absent any hearing, they were denied the right to be considered for appointment to committees, task forces, or boards of NYSNA and ANA. One member was removed from the Finance Committee and excluded from Executive Sessions of NYSNA’s Board.
Because the board bypassed NYSNA’s discipline procedures, there was no internal appeals process for these members. Their only option to defend their free speech was to pursue outside legal redress. (Please see www.nynursesunited.org for more information.) This successful litigation now upholds the rights of ALL members to speak openly, without fear.
So many nurses face: unacceptable conditions, unreasonable productivity demands, inability to provide quality care, attacks against hard-won benefits, lack of respect. Nurses need an organization that embraces diversity of ideas, promotes debate and supports dissent. Our collective power to impact working conditions and health care delivery derives from an informed, involved membership that feels ownership of NYSNA. This is only possible when true democracy reigns.
Patricia Leo Holloman, RN
Lorna Samuels, RN
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN
The opinions in this column solely reflect the authors and not NYSNA. The following references are provided for those seeking additional information about the matters addressed in the column.
“An online forum is now open (in Members Only) for NYSNA bargaining unit members to post messages regarding the current opinion poll on UAN affiliation.” – www.nysna.org home page, September 2007
“...the Board of Directors determined that no disciplinary action will be taken.” – New York Nurse, January 2008
“The civil lawsuit brought by Patricia Leo Holloman, Lorna Samuels, and Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez in January 2008 was settled before Judge Loretta Preska on Feb. 26, … One of the state claims… was dismissed with prejudice on April 11, 2008. At the settlement conference held before Judge Preska,… it was agreed that all remaining claims will be dismissed with prejudice.” – New York Nurse, March 2009 (emphasis added)