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Forging ‘a new kind of nurses organization’

A vote by members of the Oregon Nurses Association on March 16 completed the affiliation process started by leaders of the National Federation of Nurses and the American Federation of Teachers just over a month ago.

The NFN is active in Montana, Ohio, Oregon and Washington state. In the past several weeks, each of these states voted to approve the affiliation agreement, which means that 34,000 registered nurses now will join the more than 48,000 nurses and healthcare professionals who are already members of the AFT.

Bruce Humphreys, a registered nurse at St.Charles Medical Center in Bend, Ore., and a member of the Oregon Nurses Association, believes the agreement between the AFT and NFN will be beneficial for everyone involved. "I feel positive about the affiliation and the fact that we are now part of the AFT and AFL-CIO."

Nurses, like Humphreys, who work on the frontlines of patient care need to be heard on the issues that affect the quality of healthcare and their jobs, AFT president Randi Weingarten says. "These affiliations by organizations that are respected leaders in their states represent a vote of confidence in the AFT as a union with a proven track record of standing up for professionals."

AFT's reputation for organizing was one of the main reasons Humphreys supported the partnership. He's excited about the prospect of having a real voice in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. "We will have a bigger platform to keep ACA in the forefront, so it will not be diluted," says Humphreys.

The U.S. now is facing a shortage of primary care providers, and the ACA will extend coverage to an additional 32 million Americans over the next several years. To prevent that shortage from becoming a crisis, nurses are expected to play an even more central role in the delivery of care. The changes brought about by the ACA will require some redesign of the healthcare system to eliminate restrictions on nursing practice, as well as changes in coverage and payment rules to recognize this expanding role for nurses.

It's critical that nurses have a strong union in this time of transition for America's healthcare system. "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," says Barbara Crane, president of the NFN and a registered nurse.

Affiliation with the AFT will augment the NFN's advocacy in the workplace, and with state and national policymakers, because nurses will play an even larger role in maintaining high-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.

This affiliation agreement "holds the potential to create a new kind of nurses' organization," says Candice Owley, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, a registered nurse in Milwaukee and an AFT vice president.

The fast-paced changes of the healthcare industry require that nurses on the frontlines have the ability to speak up on behalf of their patients, says Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer of the Ohio Nurses Association. "Whether in Columbus or on Capitol Hill, nurses stand for quality care, for high standards and for improved working conditions," she says.

March 21, 2013