Steelworkers, California Nurses Form Landmark Alliance

New Model for Organizing Health Care Workers Is Forged
Less Than 10% of Healthcare Workers in U.S. Are Currently Organized

The following statement from the California Nurses Association (CNA) and United Steel Workers of America (USWA) was posted on the Internet March 13. The new Health Care Workers Alliance, announced here, has big potential significance for the campaign in the U.S. for a national health care program. Note especially the following paragraph:

“The Alliance will also welcome other progressive unions with members in health care in the U.S. and Canada, who share COMMON GOALS, such as establishing a UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN THE U.S. and preserving the system in Canada, and assuring that patient needs are the primary component in health care decision making.” (Emphasis added.)

Where Just Health Care campaigns are already well under way, and have already had significant successes, such as in Massachusetts and the state of Washington, this could lend added force to those campaigns.

PITTSBURGH—The United Steelworkers of America and the California Nurses Association today launched a landmark organizing alliance that could change the face of health care.

Under the newly forged Health Care Workers Alliance, the promise of a collective voice will be offered to hundreds of thousands of nurses and other health care workers in the mostly non-union health care industry. The unique alliance combines the power of one of North America’s pre-eminent industrial unions with the professional expertise and experience of the nation’s fastest growing independent nurses union.

Initially, the USWA and CNA will immediately begin work on joint union organizing projects in California and other states. One coordinated campaign is already underway at the Good Samaritan and Mission Oaks Hospitals in San Jose.

The Alliance will also welcome other progressive unions with members in health care in the U.S. and Canada, who share common goals, such as establishing a universal health care system in the U.S. and preserving the system in Canada, and assuring that patient needs are the primary component in health care decision making.

“With 11 million health care workers in the United States, it is tragic that fewer than 10% have union representation. It’s no wonder that our health care system is in grave crisis to the detriment of health care workers and patients alike,” said USWA President Leo Gerard. “We intend to transform the health care landscape.”

“We dream of a day,” said CNA President Kay McVay, RN, “when all nurses are united under one umbrella, in a national nurses’ organization that will give them genuine power to be stronger patient advocates and effectuate change for their patients and themselves.” McVay said she hoped other progressive nurses’ unions will join the new Alliance. “By working with the USWA, we will have additional power to protect the professional practice of nurses and forge a strong unity with other health care workers.”

Establishing this alliance was a critical priority of recently retired USWA President George Becker. “Health care is a vital resource and public service, not a commodity to be exploited for profit by a few,” said Becker. “We need a model that will protect workers, but also serve the public well-being by giving patients an improved health care system with a genuine health care safety net.”

“Nurses and other health care employees have been in unions for more than half a century. Yet today, only a relative handful are represented, scattered about in several dozen organizations,” said CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. “By building a new but very different approach, organizing large numbers of health care employees along industrial lines perfected by the USWA and using the vision and professional model established by CNA, we have an exciting, unparalleled opportunity.

An industrial model approach to organizing, DeMoro explained, defines health care as no longer a single system with individual employers, but a large industry comprised of huge corporate chains. It sees the corporate links between hospital corporations and this model’s counterparts in other health care sectors, including other providers, material suppliers, and financial support services — and projects the need for organizing in all sectors.

To that end, the Alliance agreement “will promote joint organizing and support labor solidarity beyond hospitals for organizing in order to bolster our power in direct care. These additional areas include nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, medical device manufacturers, financial institutions, pharmaceuticals, supplemental equipment manufacturers, medical records processing, laboratories and food services.”

Concurrently, the Alliance agreement commits both parties to the patient advocacy model long championed by CNA. That includes pledges to:

In addition to the joint organizing projects, Alliance members will provide mutual support for collective bargaining strategies, and work together to influence the public debate and legislation in support of a publicly funded, universal health care system and other critical legislation, including safe staffing, and bans on mandatory overtime.

For information, contact:

For CNA, Mike Griffing, 510-273-2237 or Charles Idelson, 510-273-22420

For USWA, Wayne Ranick, 412-562-244420