Sunday, March 18, 2007

that settles...something

It's hard to make heads or tails out of the recent decision by the California Nurses Association to affiliate with the AFL-CIO. It doesn't help that this news isn't getting a whole lot of attention, even though it could have fairly profound consequences for both healthcare organizing and healthcare policy going forward. Not having a cohesive opinion on this, I'll just throw out some stuff to consider.

- The CNA has historically prided itself on its independence, touting its ability to rise above labor politics, bureaucracy, etc. to advocate aggressively on behalf of nurses and patients. The independence also allowed the union to maintain a sometimes-criticized purity in terms of its membership -- only nurses. Ask a PCA or an animal care tech. how nurses view other folks "lower" down the hospital chain and you'll get an idea what I'm talking about. I'm not saying that purity's necessarily good or bad, nor is it unique to the CNA among AFL affiliates, but nurses will have to know that most of their per capita dues are going outside the profession and outside the hospital.

- Will this limit their remarkable political effectiveness? Being subsumed by the bureaucracy (and sluggishness) of AFL-CIO politics could weaken and slow down anyone. If done smartly, the added AFL-CIO resources could make the CNA an even bigger player in both statewide and national politics. We'll see.

- Is this going to help or hurt their national organizing ambitions? I think their independence and RN focus generally helped them organize in other states, but I don't know much about their campaigns. I don't totally see why someone would want to join the AFL-CIO right now, since -- apart from the newly-joined CNA -- very few of the affiliated unions are actually growing or attempting to do so in a strategic manner. In my admittedly biased view, the most dynamic and promising national organizing campaigns are being conducted by Change to Win affiliates: Justice for Janitors, Hotel Workers Rising, the Teamsters Port Campaign, Walmart, etc. And many of the natural allies for those campaigns are represented by (or in bargaining relationships with) SEIU in the healthcare industry. CNA and SIEU may still have some animus left over despite their partnership, but joint organizing within the same federation would certainly solve a lot more raiding problems than getting on opposite sides.

- Is the AFL-CIO's position on healthcare reform enough of a reason to affiliate? I actually think this makes some good sense. The AFL will strengthen its position by adding thousands of union nurses and experienced healthcare advocates, and the CNA will probably get more influence in what happens nationally than they previously had.

Is this getting boring for anyone else? It's boring me. I'm out.


Not a Flaneur, I Just Walk A lot said...

Actually, i find it rather interesting. Write more.

Katie said...

I'm interested, too (hey, while I'm not a nurse, it's my industry!).