By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
At a specially-called delegates meeting March 16 in Portland, elected officers of 10,400-member Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) ratified a proposal to affiliate with 850,000-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The move is the latest in a series of realignments in which unionized nurses have consolidated into several national formations.
RN Paul Goldberg, ONA’s assistant executive director of labor relations, said affiliating with AFT will enhance the voice and power of nurses within Oregon and across the country, at a time when hospitals are consolidating and becoming more formidable adversaries. Goldberg said nurses are headed for turbulence with the changes to the health care industry brought about by the Affordable Care Act. Hospitals are reacting to uncertainty with cost-cutting measures, Goldberg said, including tightened nurse staffing levels, and efforts to have less skilled workers do the work of RNs.
Though designated as AFT Local 5905, ONA remains autonomous, keeping its name, leadership, staff, and bylaws. It also continues as a part of NFN, which becomes a new unit of AFT.
ONA thus becomes the fourth major AFT body in Oregon. The others are 11,000-member AFT-Oregon (a state federation with 19 locals representing community college faculty and support staff at K-12 schools); 18,600-member Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA), an independent union of K-12 classified employees that joined AFT in 2008; and 3,100-member Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents most RNs at Kaiser Permanente. [ONA represents 10,400 RNs in about 50 separate bargaining units around the state, including Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), and most hospitals in the Providence chain.]
Through all the reorganizations, ONA never left the Oregon AFL-CIO. ONA’s affiliation brings AFT’s membership total within the Oregon AFL-CIO to 40,800; that makes AFT the 110,000-member state federation’s most populous union.
Legacy Health Systems is the only major hospital chain in the Portland area where RNs are nonunion, and outside Portland, Salem Hospital is the only other large hospital with nonunion RNs.
SEE RELATED ARTICLE: Fracture and reunion as nurses unions shift alignments — Nurse associations have merged, split, and morphed as nurses turn toward collective bargaining