Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Country's Newest Union.

I'm really excited about this. A number of nurses unions combined on Monday to form the largest union in the country, National Nurses Union. Here's the skinny on how they've jumped right into work:

PHOENIX, Dec. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Hours after formalizing the birth of the largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in U.S. history, National Nurses United hit the ground running Tuesday with the selection of an executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro, and its first public action, a protest at the headquarters of the Arizona hospital association.

DeMoro, who has served since 1993 as executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, a role she will continue, is also a national vice president of the AFL-CIO. She was named at the inaugural meeting late Tuesday afternoon of the new NNU board of the new 150,000-member organization.

One of the most prominent voices in labor and healthcare in the U.S., DeMoro for eight straight years has been named among the 100 most powerful people in healthcare by the industry trade publication Modern Healthcare, was cited among the Most Influential Women in America by MSN, and among "America's Best and Brightest" by Esquire magazine. Under her stewardship, CNA/NNOC passed the nation's first RN staffing ratio law and led an internationally renown campaign against California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when he tried to roll back the law.

The NNU board, which also took office Tuesday, comprises leaders of the three founding organizations, United American Nurses, Massachusetts Nurses Association, and CNA/NNOC. New board members include the NNU national officers - the Council of Presidents Deborah Burger (California), Karen Higgins (Massachusetts), and Jean Ross (UAN), and NNU Secretary Treasurer Martha Kuhl (California).

They are joined on the board by vice presidents, Zenei Cortez (California), Bernadine Engeldorf (Minnesota), Sandra Falwell (Washington, DC), Diane Goddeeris (Michigan), Linda Hamilton (Minnesota), Geri Jenkins (California), Margie Keenan (California), Brenda Langford (Illinois), Malinda Markowitz (California), Trande Phillips (California), and Beth Piknick (Massachusetts). The four officers and Goddeeris were named to the NNU Executive Committee.

At its initial meeting, the NNU board promised to move quickly on an ambitious agenda of organizing non-union RNs across the nation, defending and advancing the interests of direct-care RNs and patients, establishing a more influential voice for RNs in Washington, and passing key patient care reforms, such as national nurse to patient ratios, and building stronger international ties with nurses around the world.

To help announce the arrival of NNU, delegates to the founding convention rallied and picketed outside the Phoenix offices of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association Tuesday. They emphasized that nurses would step up efforts to challenge hospital industry attacks on nurses rights, economic and workplace standards, patient care conditions, opposition to ratios and other critical legislation, and work to pass the Employee Free Choice Act to enhance the ability of nurses and other working people to form unions.

"We're here to send a signal to the Arizona hospital association and the American hospital industry. We will not be silenced, we will not be stopped," said Ross in keynoting the rally. "Hospital associations around the country oppose safe staffing legislation that guarantees patients the care the care they need, and with their allies intimidate RNs when we try to organize a union. That intimidation must stop."

"We know that union RNs provide quality care, better care because we have real power on our units, to speak out and advocate for our patients," said Ross. "We also know that America is hurting. As nurses we see the consequences every day. We know that at the heart of the current crisis is the stagnation of wages, the erosion of living standards, and the loss of buying power for American workers that has coincided with three decades of attacks on the rights of American workers to form unions and bargain collectively."

"When workers have a greater voice to lift up their standards, all of America prospers. That's why we need the Employee Free Choice Act, to restore balance to our system of labor law. The greatest economic stimulus, economic recovery plan would be to restore the right for more American workers to form unions and raise standards for themselves and their families and their communities," Ross said.

Bringing an Arizona focus to the rally were Rebekah Friend, Secretary-Treasurer, Arizona AFL-CIO, Arizona RN Debbie Rice, and Dan O'Neil, of Progressive Democrats of America. "It is an honor to speak at the very first public action of National Nurses United," said Rice. "On behalf of Arizona nurses, we want to thank you for building a national organization for RNs and giving us the leadership and encouragement to keep on fighting for nurses and patients."

"We know the consequences of bottom line medicine, that puts our patients at the mercy of protocols designed to meet budgets rather than patient needs," said Higgins. "We know what happens when hospital and insurance companies collude to barter human lives for money - people suffer and the executives and the corporations prosper. We know what works, and we will not go away until we win the protections our patient need."

DeMoro, who opened the rally and later closed the convention, praised the delegates for their work and their commitment to building a monumental movement of direct-care RNs. "RNs can be the most powerful voice in this country. It is our responsibility, as NNU, to be agents of change, to be the warriors we've admired in history, to inspire the nurses of this country that this is their home."

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