Commentary: Who Will Organize 2.5 Million Nurses In The U.S.?

Source: Herman Benson, WorkingUSA, Vol. 12 no. 1, March 2009
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Two million five hundred thousand registered nurses are employed in the U.S., mostly in hospitals. By 2016, we will need 500,000 more. Now that nurses are in demand and the nation faces a shortage, they are able to make a decent living. In some cities, with overtime and salary levels protected by unions, they can make lots of money. Still, the job is tough.

Nurses need union representation. At first glance, there seems to be a bewildering assortment of claimants to provide that representation: state affiliates of the American Nurses Association (ANA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United American Nurses (UAN), American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Communication Workers of America, American Federation of Teachers, California Nurses Association (CNA), American Federation of Government Employees. Even the International Union of Operating Engineers, a heavy-equipment construction union, enrolls its share of registered nurses, over 3,000. The Steelworkers, United Food Workers, Teamsters, and Laborers all have a piece of the action.

And so, as everyone wants to get into the act, nurse unionism might seem scattered and in disarray. But that appearance minimizes the actual power of contemporary nurses’ unionism and its potential influence in the broader labor movement.

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