For the past year or so the National Nurses Organizing Committee (N.N.O.C.), a spin-off of the California Nurses Association (C.N.A.) has been aggressively trying to recruit and add nurses from across the country to their union. At present N.N.O.C. has Texas-area nurses in their sights and they are currently in Houston (under a neutrality agreement) trying to recruit nurses from three Tenet-owned, Houston-area hospitals; the three hospitals are: Cy-Fair, Houston-Northwest, and Park-Plaza.
When I learned of the N.N.O.C. activities in these hospitals I reached out to some of my contacts in Houston as well as at least one of the nurses who had been identified as leading a nurse-driven opposition to the unionization attempt. Several conversations and emails later my daughters and I found ourselves taking a short trip to Houston and meeting with the various nurses from all three hospitals. Even though I had received a great deal of background information from these nurses prior to arriving in Houston the sheer scope of the nurses’ abandonment and betrayal by their employer only became clear after I read the Tenet/C.N.A.-N.N.O.C. neutrality agreement and listened to the personal stories of the RNs that I met during my stay.
I thought how odd that a neutrality agreement would be signed even before the union presented any authorization cards showing that there was an interest from the nurses to call for a vote. Neutrality agreements are often controversial, but in short a well-written one (i.e. one that favors the union at the expense of employer rights) can make unionizing efforts much easier for the union and its representative. The Tenet/C.N.A.-N.N.O.C. agreement is heavily weighted in favor of the union, even going so far as requiring that the hospital have any of its opposition information which was to be neutral-language based preapproved by the C.N.A./N.N.O.C before it could be distributed; and the part that I thought even more interesting was the part where the hospital would provide the union with the names of “eligible” RNs personal contact information. The nurses didn’t even know their private, confidential contact information had been provided to this third party until nurses began receiving calls at home from union representatives; it was only after numerous complaints from nurses that the nurses were given an opportunity to opt-out but of course by then the union already had the complete list. One nurse shared that she discovered her contact information had been released to the union, without her knowledge, when union representatives contacted her at home and used her given name not the “nickname” that she normally goes by even at work.
The nurses that strongly opposed the union quickly formed two ad-hoc groups, UB-144 and Informed RN (http://informedrn.googlepages.com/) to reach out and provide an alternative source of information then the one being provided by C.N.A./N.N.O.C. Though one cannot necessarily blame the C.N.A./N.N.O.C. for drafting a contract that favors them and their cause so heavily, I wonder why the administration at Tenet was so willing to pretty much just roll over and take it. The first rule of contract negotiation is to make the tough demands up front and then negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. But there is little give and take in this agreement since it binds Tenet in such a way they have pretty much left the nurses that want non-union information out in the cold with no support from any Tenet official. However, these nurses showing a great deal of initiative have reached out and garnered answers and support from other nurses in Texas and across this nation – because of the little known fact that nursing unions and most of the main-stream media fail to clarify is that nursing unions do not represent the voice of nurses, since most nurses (either 89% or 80% depending on which statistic you pick) choose to speak with their own voice – not a union voice.
However, what concerns this nurse and citizen most is what, in my opinion, is a very undemocratic and almost draconian tact that the C.N.A./N.N.O.C has demanded of the three Tenet hospitals. For example C.N.A./N.N.O.C. can and does get meeting space at all three of these hospital – this is fair; but when Tenet-nurses wanted to get their “we are professionals and don’t need a union to represent us” message out the C.N.A./N.N.O.C. demanded that the hospital refuse a room to these nurses. Even though these nurses were doing everything on their own time and dime and the only thing they asked for was the same courtesy that C.N.A./N.N.O.C. had demanded – a room to meet in. The C.N.A./N.N.O.C. demanded and got a confidential employee list with the private home contact information of all the eligible RNs; when the nurses of Informed RN asked for the same courtesy they were denied access to the list. So next time when the C.N.A./N.N.O.C. (or any union for that matter) pontificates about democracy and rages against special interest groups – remember the above example because if C.N.A./N.N.O.C. was all about informing and empowering nurses then they wouldn’t fear a grass-action group such as Informed RN. But of course the C.N.A./N.N.O.C. does fear such groups because groups such as Informed RN are all about empowering RNs to be informed and to take action on what they know – all without having to pay dues to the union machine. To me how C.N.A./N.N.O.C. has dealt with the Houston RNs, coupled with the language that they crafted for a California Assembly Bill 1201 (thankfully killed in committee) shows what their union leadership really think of nurses.
Meanwhile, I hear that these buttons (see below) are so popular that Informed RN can hardly make enough to meet with the demands. Way to go Informed RN!