Connections and Organizing Campaigns
Associate Director of Organizing
political connections and alliances is a key component in
any campaign whether it is a union organizing campaign, a
campaign seeking public policy changes, or a direct action
campaign for social justice. Building political relations
is one of the most important aspects of any organizing campaign
involving the nursing profession and the health care industry.
Because as Charlie Stefanini, the MNA Director of Legislation
and Government Affairs has so aptly stated to many registered
nurses, “Everything you do as nurses and health care
professionals is directly related on some level to a government
process or agency.” Whether it is on the local, state,
or federal level, every aspect of a nurse’s job is regulated
by one of these bodies. That is why it is very important for
nurses to establish connections with their elected officials
before there is a pressing issue.
Political activism is important for nurses. As frontline registered
nurses, we know full well the challenging conditions we face
in our daily practice. That is why we must be at the forefront
in educating legislators on the effects those conditions are
having on our patients and our professional practice. If we
don’t take the lead in getting our message out to the
legislature, you can be assured that the only message they
get will be from the hospital industry. As we know, it is
not the same as ours.
are nurses getting involved in New England? This past spring,
the New England Nurses Association worked with New Hampshire
Representative Rip Holden to draft and promote HB 66, a bill
that aimed to limit mandatory overtime as an alternative to
providing appropriate staffing in New Hampshire acute care
hospitals. NENA Nurses and bargaining unit leaders at Valley
Regional Hospital in Claremont NH, provided testimony at the
hearing regarding the limitation of mandatory overtime.
NENA nurses are assisting the NH AFL-CIO to fight “Right
to Work” legislation. This legislation which is pending
before the NH legislature would weaken unions and undercut
the ability to bargain decent wages, benefits, and job protections.
NENA nurses in NH are currently involved in opposing this
legislative initiative by collecting postcards, participating
in legislative briefings and offering testimony at legislative
Massachusetts, members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association
have come along way in the past several years in making our
voices heard at the State House. MNA members have become actively
involved in lobbying elected officials on the local, state,
and federal levels through phone calls, emails, letter writing,
and office visits. In addition many members have worked on
election campaigns, hosted coffees for candidates, and attended
legislative briefings. It is through these efforts that nurses
have made political connections that have proved to be beneficial
for their bargaining units and for the Association.
one of the main focuses of the effort to mobilize members
has been the passage of safe staffing legislation (Massachusetts
H.2663), members’ political connections have been important
for their own bargaining unit fights over mandatory overtime,
nursing practice issues and campaigns to save their hospitals
importance of having established political connections became
clear during the strikes at St. Vincent’s Hospital,
Worcester, and Brockton Hospital. Nurses in both bargaining
units courageously fought against unsafe staffing conditions
and mandatory overtime. In both cases the bargaining units
were able to call upon existing political alliances for support
and to expand their contacts to include every level of the
political spectrum, from the local and state level right up
to the federal level. These contacts were instrumental in
settling both high profile strikes.
In the case of St. Vincent’s, the direct involvement
of Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative James McGovern
brought the hospital and the MNA bargaining unit nurses together
in Washington to negotiate a settlement to the nurses’
49 day strike. These negotiations led to landmark contract
language that set strict limits on the use of mandatory overtime
and gives a nurse the explicit right to refuse a mandatory
overtime assignment if he or she were too fatigued or ill
to work safely.
May of 2001, the nurses at Brockton Hospital went on strike
to protest the hospital’s failure to provide sufficient
staff and resources to offer safe patient care and to stop
the use of mandatory overtime as a means of staffing the hospital.
Like their colleagues at St. Vincent’s, the bargaining
unit nurses established political connections on all political
levels. On August 24, 2001, an agreement was reached to settle
the strike after Sen. John Kerry facilitated a marathon negotiating
session. Two important provisions of the settlement were an
obligation by the hospital to maintain staffing levels so
that overtime would not be used to staff the hospital and
language that set strict limits on the use of mandatory overtime
and inappropriate floating.
addition to these struggles, MNA members have reached out
politically in their campaigns to keep health care facilities
from closing. MNA members engaged local and state politicians
in their efforts to help save several hospitals: Whidden,
Waltham, the Fernald School, Worcester State, and Hale Hospital
(now Merrimack Valley Hospital).
good example of the MNA nurses’ efforts to fight hospital
closure was the campaign to save Hale Hospital in Haverhill,
Massachusetts. In this campaign, because the Hale was a municipal
facility, every aspect of the sale needed to go before local
and state legislative bodies. MNA nurses, working in coalition
with other unionized employees at the Hale, lobbied elected
officials over a two-year period primarily to keep the hospital
open, and, secondarily, to protect the pensions and jobs of
political work done by the Hale nurses in conjunction with
other employees and advocacy groups was instrumental in keeping
the hospital in service so it could be sold and remain open
for business. The political connections the nurses made in
this campaign would lead to the development of long-term alliances
with their local legislators and proved to be instrumental
in subsequent lobbying efforts, like the safe staffing initiative.
we face the professional challenges and uncertainties of a
health care system in jeopardy, the importance of forming
political connections becomes more important than ever. Nurses
have credibility in the public policy arena when speaking
on nursing and health care issues. We must continue to develop
and maintain strong political connections to continue to be
at the forefront of shaping public policy. So, if you want
to be a part of the voice of change in New England, you need
to get political!
can you get political?
Get educated on the issues.
Call or write your legislator and let them know your views
on the issues that affect your daily working conditions
and your nursing practice.
Attend a legislative briefing in your area.
Volunteer to campaign for an area legislator.
are just some of the ways you can get political. Just know
that you can make a difference, no matter what level you choose
to participate in. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world: Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Imagine what a powerful message we could send if we all got