Nurses Union Votes for Different Course
November 7, 2012
By Marc Bussanich
The New York State Nurses Association recently voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the American Nurses Association. In May, NYSNA nurses voted to streamline the union’s governing structure and expand the number of bedside nurses to twenty-one on the board. The union also won during the past year contract improvements at four major medical centers. But as NYSNA makes changes going forward, NYSNA nurses claim that the ANA is going backward.
One reason for the vote to disaffiliate was that the ANA suspended NYSNA’s membership because the nurses appointed an executive director of its choice to lead NYSNA. The ANA took other retaliatory action, such as barring NYSNA delegates from attending a House of Delegates meeting. According to NYSNA, ANA proposed changes that would strip “union” from the bylaws and consign collective bargaining to oblivion.
ANA also sought to reduce the number of guaranteed seats for staff nurses on ANA’s Board of Directors from four to one. In addition, the ANA wanted to strip membership and voting rights from over 300 non-RNs covered by collective bargaining.
Marva Wade, an RN and 2nd VP of NYSNA, said that the choice to disaffiliate, which was approved by 91 percent of NYSNA nurses, was made clear by ANA’s actions.
“We in NYSNA questioned whether to continue to be a part of an organization that didn’t seem to want us. It was a real punch to the stomach when ANA’s board did not allow our elected delegates to attend the delegates meeting.”
It seemed that the two organizations would diverge as, Wade noted, ANA’s board of administrators—vice presidents of nursing, directors of nursing and nursing managers—and educators have a different vision of nursing than staff nurses.
“I once ran for the presidency of ANA and during the campaign I witnessed the subtle discrimination against staff nurses vying for a leadership position on the board. Nurses sometimes have to care for 10 patients during a shift. If we have the knowledge and capacity to treat multiple patients simultaneously, we can certainly lead,” said Wade.
An important issue for NYSNA is pursuing legislation that will improve nurse-to-patient ratios, as the California Nurses Association successfully achieved. The union’s political action committee is currently lobbying legislators in Albany to take up a vote on the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.
Wade noted that ANA never publicly supported nurse-to-patient ratio legislation, let alone exhibit the will to fight for it.
“We badly need the legislation to protect union nurses and patients. ANA would never support it because the administrators on its board view it as unnecessary.”
NYSNA nurses issued strike notices in 2012 to hospital management at Montefiore Medical Center, Mt. Sinai, St. Luke’s Roosevelt and Flushing Medical Center, but Wade said that ANA’s leadership “would never have allowed that to happen.”
Another important factor contributing to NYSNA’s vote to disaffiliate was resources. Wade said that NYSNA was disbursing $3M annually to ANA, a significant amount of money that NYSNA will need as it continues its legislative push and for other campaigns, such as securing new contracts for nurses in the public sector.
“There are 16,000 NYSNA nurses working for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation for over two years without a contract and other NYSNA nurses working for smaller facilities throughout the state with open contracts. Our vote to disaffiliate is about choosing to spend our money to service our membership,” Wade said.