The leaders of two labor organizations representing healthcare professionals announced on Feb. 14 that they have approved an affiliation agreement that will bring 34,000 registered nurses into the AFT, the largest union of professionals in the AFL-CIO.
The National Federation of Nurses, which represents nurses across the country, will affiliate with the AFT, whose 1.5 million members include more than 48,000 nurses and thousands of other healthcare professionals.
"Both educators and nurses are nurturers. This partnership solidifies the unity between those who nurture body and mind—those who heal our communities with those who educate our children," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "But nurturers need muscle to advocate on behalf of the students and patients they serve. The affiliation is great news for nurses, their patients and patient care. It is a partnership based on mutual interests, mutual respect, and a mutual desire to provide our members with the tools and conditions they need to advocate for the people they serve."
Barbara Crane, a registered nurse and president of the NFN, says, "A strong voice for nurses is particularly important now in this time of transition when America's healthcare system is being redesigned. Nurses are the most trusted healthcare providers, and this new partnership with the AFT will enable us to continue to be the voice for the patients we serve."
The NFN is active in Montana, Ohio, Oregon and Washington state. The affiliation agreement maintains the organization's autonomy and structure, and provides substantial resources for growth and development of the NFN's membership. NFN's constituents will continue membership in their state and national organizations, as well as in the American Nurses Association.
"The NFN decision is a vote of confidence in the AFT as a voice for professionals," Weingarten says. "The NFN is the largest independent union of nurses, and we are delighted they have chosen to become part of our family of shared interests and professional values. Over the last few years, our union has been through the crucible of recession-squeezed budgets and political attacks. But we have emerged stronger, and this partnership only adds to our capacity to work with the communities we serve."
The agreement—upon ratification by the NFN's state organizations—also means affiliation within the AFL-CIO and represents a major development for labor relations in the healthcare professions at a time when the healthcare industry is rapidly changing and when nurses need a voice in implementing the Affordable Care Act effectively.
Both Weingarten and Crane say the new relationship will broaden the platform for bringing new members into the organization, noting that the NFN is the dominant nurses union in each of the states where it is active. Affiliation with the AFT will augment the NFN's advocacy in the workplace and with state and national policymakers as nurses play a key role in maintaining quality patient care in a changing health system.
"This affiliation is an unprecedented opportunity for staff nurses across the country to enhance their professional influence through collective bargaining," says Crane.
Candice Owley, a registered nurse in Milwaukee and an AFT vice president, says the affiliation agreement "holds the potential to create a new kind of nurses' organization.
"The state and local associations that make up the NFN are long-established and respected professional organizations in their states and communities," Owley says. "Together, we will renew and strengthen our focus on maintaining the professional standards of nursing so that our members can continue to provide the highest quality care to patients."
National Federation of Nurses CEO Lorraine Seidel, also an RN, adds, "Collective bargaining opportunities have reached a powerful potential with this national partnership. It presents an exciting, transformational option for union representation."
The affiliation agreement was approved in separate and unanimous votes by the NFN national executive board and by the AFT executive council. Over the next four to five weeks, each of the NFN state labor organizations will conduct its own formal ratification process. [AFT press release]
February 14, 2013