Those who are seeking reform of the woefully inadequate health care system have a new and powerful ally that aims to put the bulk of the country’s registered nurses behind a drive to guarantee decent health care to all Americans.
The drive will be led by an alliance of three of the largest nurses’ unions, the United American Nurses – National Nurses Organizing Committee. It’s an AFL-CIO affiliate formed recently by the California and Massachusetts Nurses Associations, which have members in six states, and the Maryland-based United American Nurses, with members in 12 states.
The alliance represents 150,000 registered nurses. That’s only a very small part of the nation’s 2.5 million RNs, but an extensive organizing drive planned by the alliance in conjunction with its drive to improve health care is certain to unionize growing numbers of nurses and bring other nurses’ organizations into the alliance.
That is likely to spur organizing drives by the nine other unions that represent RNs, as well as moves to coordinate the unions’ efforts to get better treatment for nurses and their patients. They want to ultimately bring all RNs into a single union as part of an extensive and tightly unified national nurses’ movement that would be allied with other health care unions and nurses organizations worldwide.
High on the union alliance’s agenda will be campaigning nationwide and lobbying Congress for creation of a national single-payer health care system.
Most of the alliance’s other priorities also would help the general public and patients, as well as RNs. That includes the improvements the unions seek in nurses’ working conditions which would at least indirectly benefit patients and otherwise improve the overall state of health care.
The alliance, for instance, is seeking tighter limits on the number of patients that individual nurses in hospitals and clinics are assigned to care for, and other improvements that would make work safer and more effective for both patients and their nurses.
"We feel our profession is under attack," says President Beth Piknick of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, "and because of that, patients are suffering. And for us, it’s all about the patients." She describes the alliance as "a group of like-minded organizations that will advocate for our patients."
The alliance’s executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro from the California Nurses Association, says the organization is putting together "a unified legislative and regulatory program to win critical improvements in patient care and working conditions for RNs."
There’s no doubt that nurses want – and need – the benefits of unionization, especially in these perilous economic times. Like many others, they are facing layoffs and cutbacks in compensation.
Nurses are indispensable. Their jobs, which are among society’s most important, are stressful, often exhausting and dangerous. They’re well-educated and highly skilled. Yet they’re generally paid less and receive fewer benefits than many others whose work is not nearly as vital and demanding.
Many nurses do not even have health care and pension benefits. The alliance is hoping to remedy that by winning creation of health and pension plans that would cover RNs nationwide. Nurses obviously deserve better treatment, and in seeking it, they are seeking better treatment for all of us.
Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based journalist who has covered labor and political issues for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.