Dissected Nurses’ Union Affiliates With AFT

The world of teachers’ unions is a relatively simple one. There are two national unions, and thousands of state and local organizations that are affiliated with one and/or the other. Throw in a handful of independent teachers’ unions and that’s it.

The environment for nurses’ unions is much more complex. There are several national and regional coalition groups, state federations with differing alignments, and shifting alliances. There is overlap with the teachers’ unions in that the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an NEA affiliate, has a health care division, and the American Federation of Teachers has a national health care division, which claims representation of 70,000 health care professionals, including 48,000 nurses.

Today AFT announced it had entered into an affiliation agreement with the National Federation of Nurses, a coalition of state nurses’ unions described as “active in Montana, Ohio, Oregon and Washington state.” NFN claims to represent 34,000 nurses.

“We’re really excited,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. “This partnership runs counter to all those stories about labor’s demise. [This] broadens the platform from which we do our organizing, and from which we have a voice.”

Of course, the labor movement’s problems can’t be solved by affiliating workers who are already unionized. While this affiliation certainly strengthens AFT, it adds more fuel to the fire that surrounds nurses’ unions, who reportedly represent only about 15 percent of the nation’s nurses.

The National Federation of Nurses was formed in controversial fashion in 2008. as reported by Labor Notes. Apparently a constitution was drawn up and a board appointed without consulting the delegates of the state associations. At the time, the coalition also included the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and the New Jersey State Nurses Association (NJSNA).

Without losing you along the byzantine turns created by raids, mergers and the formation of new coalitions, what is clear is that NYSNA very publicly disaffiliated from NFN last year, citing interference in internal matters. The current relationship between New Jersey and NFN is unknown, but there is no mention of NFN affiliation on the NJSNA web site.

AFT’s own nurses’ local in Oregon was unlawfully placed under national trusteeship to prevent disaffiliation in 2009. We don’t know yet whether there will be a formal relationship between the local and the newly admitted Oregon Nurses Association.

Finally, there is the tension with the largest national nurses’ union, National Nurses United, which claims 185,000 members.

“We believe that nurses and patients are better served when nurses are in a union that understands nurses and just serves nurses,” said Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United.