News | May 31, 2000

Pennsylvania Nurses Create New Collective Bargaining Unit

Bases model on California Nurses Association

Heralded as the start of a new national independent nurses movement, a contingent of nurses in Pennsylvania have voted to form an independent organization to represent RNs and other health professionals in the Keystone State.

The new organization, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), is the successor to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) Health Care Employees Division. Delegates representing some 6,000 Pennsylvania RNs and other healthcare professionals voted to form the organization on May 24, according to information from PASNAP.

The nurses chose to split from the PSEA because being independent would allow the nurses to better address issues, Pearl Kolbosky, RN, vice president of PASNAP, tells Nurses.com. "We hope that nurses across the state of Pennsylvania will join in with us," she says.

Most of the members are bedside nurses, with a small percentage of lab and radiology technicians. The organization also has LPNs. The locals are distributed across the state, though locals in eastern Pennsylvania are larger locals with more members, Kolbosky says.

"Our greater vision," Kolbosky says, "is to eventually form a national organization of bedside nurses to fight the issues of downsizing, deskilling, the corporatization of hospitals, the HMOs, and insurance companies that put the restrictions on hospitals."

Previously, Kolbosky, a staff nurse in the critical care unit of Jeannette Hospital, Jeannette, PA, outside of Pittsburgh, was vice president of the statewide division of the PSEA Healthcare Division.

Currently, the American Nurses Association has no active collective bargaining unit in Pennsylvania, says Susan Bianchi-Sand, director of United American Nurses (UAN), the labor entity for the ANA. Sand notes, though, that the UAN's highest priority is organizing RNs wherever they are. "We have the trademark on nurses because of the history here and the knowledge of the workplace and a very deep network of connections," she tells Nurses.com. "We will be reaching out wherever there are opportunities." The UAN presently represents over 100,000 nurses in 27 states.

The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association is constituent member of the ANA but doesn't offer collective bargaining.

Some 2,000 Pennsylvania nurses and other healthcare professionals are represented by the non-ANA Pennsylvania Nurses Association (PNA), says Rosemary Martinjuk, assistant to the director of PNA. Earlier in its history, the PNA was affiliated with the ANA but is now associated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, part of the AFL-CIO.

Connection to California
Of note, PASNAP is in alliance with the California Nurses Association (CNA). PASNAP says that its leaders contacted CNA earlier this year and asked for assistance in creating an organization modeled after CNA. The CNA agreed to help the nurses as a first step, the PASNAP says, in building an independent national nurses movement for direct care RNs.

PASNAP will use the CNA model to help set up the organization, says Kolbosky. CNA will also provide financial help, she says.

The CNA model involves more than just collective bargaining, stresses Kay McVay, president of the 35,000-member organization. She tells Nurses.com that CNA activities also involve lobbying, sponsorship of legislation, regulatory activities, education in nursing practice, and research.

Whatever happens at the state capitol and in regulatory agencies affects nurses, she notes, so that it's "absolutely important" that nurses be represented in these areas.

It's also crucial that nurses are "aggressive in looking at the issues and trying to educate the legislators and public about their rights and what they should expect."

Conversations with what was to become the PASNAP actually began over a year ago, McVay says. In March 2000, during a staff nurse assembly where representatives from various states came, plans started to gel.

McVay tells Nurses.com that the CNA is also talking to Rhode Island about a similar arrangement, though the conversation is "nebulous."

The president disavowed that the CNA is actively looking to replace ANA state nurses associations. "We have no intention of taking over anybody's organization—that is not our agenda," she says. Rather, "we want the nurses themselves to become stronger and more articulate."

The CNA "has been very focused and dedicated to the patients and the nurses and it shows," she asserts. But what a national organization would look like, she says, was up in the air.

The CNA broke with the ANA in 1995, and nurses were prompted to leave because they "didn't have a voice out in the nursing community." Instead, McVay says, the power resided with those representing the interests of hospitals as opposed to staff nurses.

PASNAP delegates were also joined by representatives of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and United Nurses and Allied Professionals of Rhode Island. A representative from the Maine State Nurses Association also sent greetings, according to PASNAP.

PASNAP says it will establish offices in early June in Wilkes-Barre, suburban Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Initially, they'll likely be headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, but will try to locate the headquarters in the center of the state.

Messages of support have come to PASNAP from various labor organization. These include the United Steelworkers of America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

By Louis Pilla

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