Nurses have been called the new face of organized labor. Like an increasing percentage of the rest of America’s labor movement, the typical RN in the U.S. is female, college-educated, and working a non-outsourceable job in the service sector.
This week, American nurses banded together to weild unprecedented power in the workplace and in national politics. Delegates in Phoenix yesterday approved a three-union merger to create National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest union of registered nurses.
Eight months in the making, the merger joins the California Nurses Association, the United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Union to create a new super union with a combined strength of 150,000 members.
NNU hopes to use its increased clout to influence the national healthcare debate. The timing is fortuitous. The new super union is coming online just as the Senate is debating its version of the healthcare reform bill.
Near the top of NNU’s legislative wishlist is S.1031, AKA The National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca), would require hospitals to maintain a minimum ratio of nurses to patients in ERs, operating rooms, critical care units, and nurseries. Hospitals would be forbidden under the Act to use mandatory overtime or layoffs to meet the target ratio.
Most registered nurses in the U.S. do not belong to a union, but NNU is thinking big. The new union hopes to organize tens of thousands of non-union RNs nationwide.
*This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on December 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Lindsay Beyerstein, a former InTheseTimes.com political reporter, is a freelance investigative journalist in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Slate.com, AlterNet.org, The New York Press, The Washington Independent, RH Reality Check and other news outlets. Beyerstein writes a daily foreign affairs bulletin for the UN Foundation’s UN Dispatch website and covers healthcare for the Media Consortium. She is the winner of a 2009 Project Censored Award. She blogs at Majikthise.