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The formation of the National Nurses United (www.nationalnursesunited.org) in December was the first step in giving Minnesota's direct-care registered nurses more organizing clout locally and a larger voice on the national scene, according to local union officers.
The new organization combined smaller national unions for a total of 150,000 members whose agenda includes healthcare reform to benefit patients and nurses; nursing practice, education and safety issues; improved collective bargaining; political action; and "good old-fashioned organizing," says Linda Hamilton, RN, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association (www.mnnurses.org),which unanimously voted to join NNU.
Smaller Unions Come Together
Since 2003, the 20,000-member MNA had been a member of a smaller national union called United American Nurses, which was folded into NNU along with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
"We have long needed a place to come together in numbers to be more of a formidable force," says Jean Ross, RN, who works on the vascular access team at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina and is one of three co-presidents of NNU. "It's become more and more difficult to deal with employers," especially those that cross state lines. "They're always going to beat us finance-wise, but people-wise, we're going to do it."
"I think our nurses were very ready," adds Hamilton. "Nurses all share the same issues wherever we work."
Changes On The Local Scene
The statewide union plans to step up its organizing efforts, and its members will likely witness the national union's presence at collective bargaining for new contracts at 11 Twin Cities' hospitals this year, according to Bernadine "Bunny" Engeldorf, RN, a mental health nurse at United Hospital in St. Paul. Existing contracts are due to expire May 31.
"With our upcoming negotiations, we will see direct support for Minnesota and the nurses here," says Engeldorf, second vice president of MNA.
amilton, who works in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospitals & Clinics in Minneapolis, says NNU will work to directly affect healthcare reform nationally.
"Every citizen in America needs to have health care - accessible, affordable and quality healthcare. Our system is so broken that we end up seeing patients in the intensive care unit, and if they had been seen much earlier they could have been given a prescription and sent home," she explains. "The system needs to be changed and nurses want to be part of that change. We are ultimately at the bedside with those patients."