UPDATE March 19th: CNA-NNOC and SEIU made nice and have agreed not to step on each others turf. Basically, they agreed not to raid each others contracts and SEIU recgonized CNA-NNOC as the correct bargaining group for RN's not currently orgainzed with SEIU. This is a big win for each side even if it threw the NUHW worksers under the bus. Read about the strory here
A serious debate and some say war has been unfolding over who can provide the best representation to Nurses. One school of thought is that Nursing should be represented by the same Union that represents the entire hospital, from the housekeeper to the bedside RN and nearly everyone in between. The other side says RN’s power and ability to advocate for patients is diluted when their representative is not a organization dedicated to the Nursing profession. A third point of view wants no representation and wants to trust the employer. I won’t spend time commenting on the 3rd group who I consider hopelessly naive.
Now enter the major players. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a nationwide union that represents more than 2 million workers in over 100 occupations from all sectors of the economy. SEIU has many divisions and locals, some exclusive to healthcare such as the United Healthcare Workers (UHW). In California UHW was a marriage of 2 large Unions, Local 250 in Northern California and Local 399 in Southern California. It’s not all one happy family within the SEIU-UHW marriage. Within SEIU and UHW’s web sites which are linked are charges and counter charges by both sides accusing each other of fraud, phony elections, inappropriate use of funds, and more. The other key player in this war is the California Nurses Association (CNA) and their national affiliate the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) which represent approximately 75000 Registered Nurses in many states. CNA is a member of the national AFL-CIO which is a voluntary federation of 56 national and international Labor Unions. CNA and NNOC are basically the same people wearing different hats depending if they are organizing California Nurses or Nurses in other states. CNA is much more homogenises than SEIU. They only represent Registered Nurses. Are all these affiliations clear as mud.
The unions have several things in common, primarily their politics which is various versions of left of center. Some way left. Each promote Healthcare Reform with CNA promoting single payer coverage or "Medicare for All" and SEIU promoting Universal Coverage with employer provided coverage and government assistance to those not employed. Each were Obama supporters and provided resources for various democratic causes and campaigns. Each Union supports the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) also known as Card Check. You can read about the case for EFCA here and the case against here. This is where the friendship and cooperation ends.
Throughout the Nation there are Hospitals were all non-exempt employees are represented by SEIU unions. Others have SEIU representing ancillary staff and CNA or one of the other smaller Nursing unions or employee associations representing Nurses mostly with good cooperation. Others have CNA for Nursing and no one for ancillary. The majority of Nurses outside California and a few other states are unrepresented by any Union. CNA and SEIU are in competition for the most lucrative members and both have nationwide campains to organize hospitals and Registered Nurses. Union dues generally run about 1-2 percent of an employee’s gross yearly pay. 1 percent is a larger sum from an RN than it is from a Housekeeper. Each side accuses the other of a variety of issues. CNA alleges that SEIU is a more management friendly union and has made numerous backdoor deals and relationships that are not in the best interest of employees as well as numerous episodes of corruption. Read a variety of allegations in CNA’s SEIU watch website. SEIU accuses CNA of raiding other Unions which they claim weakens all represented employees. You can read their claims at their sponsored site “Shame on CNA”. This fight has turned ugly on a number of occasions this spring at hospital organizing events in Ohio, Michigan, and Chicago where things became physical.
I have worked in Hospitals where Nurses have been represented by SEIU and others by CNA. I have also worked in management roles without representation. Currently I am a CNA member where union membership is a requirement of employment. I feel much more empowered both economically and as a patient advocate in a RN union than in a all inclusive union or being unrepresented. CNA successfully brought Nursing Ratio’s to California and successfully repelled Governor Arnold’s attempt to repeal them in 2005. CNA is on a nationwide campaign to get patient protections in the form of ratios to other states. SEIU opposed ratios in favor of more protections for LVN’s and Ancillary staff who they represent and fewer for RN’s. While working as a SEIU nurse I was very aware that Nursing did not have the same voice as I do now. Nurses are one of the few classes of employees where the market was demanding higher wages but were constrained because our union was attempting to be fair by bargaining for more across the board increases for all workers. So there you have it. ERMurse comes out squarely for RN’s having a RN union. I am also troubled by the numerous reports of corruption within SEIU. That being said, the current nasty public battle between unions damages all of us seeking effective union representation.