Suzanne Gordon: Why Kaiser RNs should back NUHW (Beyond Chron)

NewsJanuary 7, 2010

(Ed note: A two day election starts today at Kaiser Sunset Hospital in Los Angeles, where nurses will be deciding whether to leave SEIU and join NUHW. Suzanne Gordon has written or edited eight books about nursing and health care, and recently published a study of the Kaiser labor-management partnership called Healing Together)

RNs today face mounting difficulties. Hospital budget-cutting is once again eliminating the jobs of nurses and increasing their workloads — a trend that may only get worse due to the troubled state of our local economy and “health care reform” in Washington that may fall short of our hopes and needs.

Even at a health care employer as heavily unionized and profitable as Kaiser, we see the danger signs: cost-cutting that could lead to under-staffing and erosion of quality patient care. At such a critical moment, nurses need an organization that can advocate effectively for their own interests and those of their patients.

It has been my long-standing policy not to get involved in organizational decisions involving RNs. I’ve worked with many different nurses’ associations and unions, professional organizations, and specialty groups, in the U.S. and abroad. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, good points and bad. But it is up to nurses themselves to make them better vehicles for achieving personal, professional, and workplace goals.

In this case, however, I feel I must stand up for one union that I have come to know very well and greatly respect. The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) has not abandoned the coalition of patients, care givers, and health care advocates that helped achieve past gains for RNs and their communities in California.

More than ever before, nurses need a union that will fight to uphold California’s landmark safe staffing law. They need a union that will help them be more pro-active in dealing with hospital restructuring, work reorganization, and the introduction of new computer technology. They need a union that can make labor-management relations at Kaiser a real partnership again, rather than an LMP dominated by people who are not — and in some cases, have never been — bedside nurses.

I believe that having a democratic union, responsive to both professional issues and day-to-day job concerns, is the only way to improve the status and role of nursing within KP. Just as RNs seek to build good working relationships with doctors and administrators — based on recognition of their skill, experience, and professional autonomy — working nurses also deserve the same kind of respect from the organization that negotiates and administers their union contract, while collecting dues from them in return.

Size alone does not guarantee union effectiveness or greater responsiveness to the membership. A bargaining unit run by and for its own members, relying on their professional dedication, creativity, and ideas, can move mountains.

The current campaign to restore a real “voice at work” for RNs and other care-givers at Kaiser in California is important for nurses everywhere. I look forward to working with you and other members of NUHW, now and in the future.

Suzanne Gordon is a journalist, lecturer, and adjunct professor of nursing who is the author of Nursing Against The Odds, Life Support, From Silence To Voice, and Safety in Numbers, a recent study of California’s pioneering safe staffing law. Her Cornell ILR Press series on the culture and politics of health care recently published a study of the Kaiser labor-management partnership called Healing Together. For more information on her nursing advocacy work, see

Source: Beyond Chron