National Nurses United is leveraging COVID-19 for their own agenda

Lori Chovanak King, DNP, RN, APRN-BC

The National Nurses United (NNU) is at it again as it attempts to leverage a crisis to line their pocketbook and achieve their political goals. Once again, the NNU’s misguided focus of organizing nurses into their “super union” is priority rather than collaborating efforts with the healthcare community to address this public health pandemic.

The NNU is well known for being a far-left organization that uses aggressive organizing tactics with a top down controlling constitution – locking nurses into the organization. In fact, due to their unsavory nature, many nurses forced into the union in 2009 did NOT want to be represented by them. Additionally, the NNU has lost thousands of members through disaffiliation since its formation, including large nurses associations in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The union has also received at least 23 decertification filings and 220 unfair labor practice charges since 2009. One example of the filed decertification petitions includes 370 nurses at Rio Grande Regional Hospital where in 2012 the nurses voted to leave the NNU stating they did not follow through with their many promises. A quick review of the 220 ULP’s filed demonstrates at least 15 of the filings included charges of coercion including statements of violence.

It comes naturally to NNU leadership to use COVID-19 to publicly cast blame and leverage this crisis to bolster their agenda. This disposition is a derivative of the organization’s longtime leadership who has instilled a “my way or the highway” culture that proudly proclaims its disregard for social obedience and collaboration, leverages theatrics, and is ruthless and unforgiving in its inability to consider consensus. Even those they staunchly support, like Bernie Sanders, have had to ask them to “cool it.”

The goals of the politically charged group have not changed since its formation in 2009. Their mission statement speaks to representing all nurses in the nation. To achieve this goal, the NNU has demonstrated that it will do anything in its power to solicit membership, including questionable behavior and scare tactics towards elected leaders, leaving them fearful at times, with some even receiving physical threats. They publicly attack healthcare stakeholders and place blame where they can get attention and traction, which reflects a drastic contrast to what nurses represent as healthcare professionals.

Now the NNU is at it again. Using the current COVID-19 crisis to try to gain attention, create anger, and stir emotion among nurses, they are using this crisis to call on nurses to unionize. Where they already represent nurses, they have organized protests calling for PPE, a problem that the entire nation faces, not just a few isolated hospitals.

The activities and events are not only unhelpful but actually add chaos and at times have been genuinely unsafe. Social distancing has not been strictly followed when they bring groups together. It is also alarming that there are reported examples like the union flying a drone at a hospital that is currently a target of an NNU organizing campaign. The device was being used to document video of their event while a medical helicopter flight was taking off from the hospitals helipad - endangering the flight crew and the individuals on the ground.

Not all unions operate this way. Some have come together with elected officials and employers to solve the tough issues we are facing. For example, messages from union leaders in Montana call for a collaborative approach and flexibility to weather the storm. And in Lakeland, Florida the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) nurse union and hospital leadership are working together to address their issues, plan, and ensure accurate information.

Many hospitals are struggling financially right now as census is down, elective procedures are on hold, and nurses are being laid off and furloughed. The NNU calls for system leaders to take pay cuts and redirect funds, however, has NNU leadership done the same? Many hospital administrations have already made and continue to implement these adjustments but has NNU offered to reduce or forgive dues for nurses during this crisis, or are the nurses still obligated to pay full union dues to the NNU as constitution language commands? If nurses don’t pay dues to the NNU will they lose their jobs?

The NNU blames the nation’s hospitals for not being prepared for a global pandemic. They did the same thing in 2014 with Ebola by blaming hospitals for not being prepared yet offered no solutions- just words. If the NNU is all knowing on what should be done and promotes themselves as able to fix issues for nurses, then why are the hospitals where they represent nurses also struggling with the same issues as their non-union counterparts?

In hospitals where the NNU represents nurses for collective bargaining, they are “helping” by organizing protests in 7 states and using a COVID-19 Facebook page to discuss and encourage employer attacks including discussion of strikes and walkouts. Their calls for action as demonstrated in this recent NNU document demonstrate the typical NNU focus which does not contribute solutions, just letters and press releases calling out others.

What about the impact of NNU’s organizing around COVID-19 on other unions? The NNU has not made many (if any) friends among labor organizations and this is not going to help. They are known by healthcare unions for their raiding tactics to grow membership. Regardless of being called out in the labor community, these tactics that are a direct disregard of the AFL-CIO constitution continue, with reports that nurses in many states have received text messages to personal cell phones from the NNU.

The messages attempt to drive them to NNU’s website, request them to sign petitions and join political actions. The message recipients have included nurses represented by other professional nurse unions, which could be construed as disregard of the AFL-CIO’s constitutional articles XX and XXI addressing union raids on unions. This would not be the first time the NNU has over stepped the constitution of the AFL-CIO and will likely stir up another internal fire within the national labor community.

There is no doubt that the NNU is driven to increase its footprint. They have always made that clear. It is in times like these that it becomes more evident than ever that we as nurses need to be informed and educated on this particular union’s real agenda. It is not to make nurses’ lives better or to fix issues within the walls of our hospitals. It is clearly to amplify healthcare issues in order to get pulled into the media spotlight, take nurses money, and then use those funds for their own political gain at the national level.