Fracture and reunion as nurses unions shift alignments


Once upon a time, “nurse organization” meant the American Nurses Association (ANA). ANA is a professional association for registered nurses (RNs), and has state-level affiliates, like Oregon Nurses Association (ONA). But in recent decades, many RNs came to feel they needed not just professional development but the workplace protections of a collective bargaining agreement. Some state ANA affiliates became more like labor unions. That created tension within the ANA, which also had as members academics and RNs in management. That tension led the California Nurses Association (CNA) to leave ANA in 1995. So in 1999, United American Nurses (UAN) was formed as the union wing of the ANA for state affiliates engaged in collective bargaining.

Meanwhile, national unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and the Teamsters had been engaging in their own organizing campaigns among RNs. With so many unions seeking to represent RNs, conflicts sometime arose, along with accusations of “raiding.” In union parlance, a raid is an attempt by one union to represent workers who are already represented by another union.

UAN affiliated with the national AFL-CIO in 2001, in part to stop raiding, since AFL-CIO has rules barring affiliated unions from raiding each other.

Then in 2005, SEIU, UFCW, the Teamsters, and several other unions left the AFL-CIO. Though UAN contemplated joining them, it remained in the AFL-CIO. CNA affiliated with the AFL-CIO in 2006.

In 2007, amid fears that UAN leaders were considering joining SEIU (and leaving the AFL-CIO), UAN affiliates in Montana, New York, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon (ONA) left. The following year they formed a new group, the National Federation of Nurses (NFN). NFN sought to affiliate with the AFL-CIO, but AFL-CIO rules say breakaway groups can’t get their own charter for at least three years.

CNA and its National Nurses Organizing Committee then merged with UAN and Massachusetts Nurses Association to form National Nurses United (NNU) in December 2009.

Last year, NFN’s New York affiliate voted to secede.

In February, NFN announced affiliation with AFT, which was then ratified by its remaining affiliates. ONA was the final NFN affiliate to approve joining AFT. The addition of the four NFN affiliates adds 35,000 members, bringing AFT’s health care division to 82,000.


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