The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) has long supported the right of nurses to organize, bargain collectively, and engage in union actions and collective activities. These activities grow out of the professional and ethical standards of the nursing profession. Nurses have the obligation to establish the means to effectively influence and implement standards of practice within the employment setting and to ensure employment conditions that permit delivery of the highest quality of nursing care.
As a legally regulated negotiating tool, collective bargaining empowers nurses to find a voice for requiring change in their own economic and general welfare and in the healthcare environment. By implication, the procedures established by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and additional state laws, require employers to negotiate with their employees as equals.
NYSNA first recognized the need for attention to the economic and general welfare of the professional nurse in 1901 as part of its Articles of Incorporation, formally creating its Economic and General Welfare (EGW) Program in 1957.
The concepts of social justice outlined in three national nursing documents (Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, Nursing’s Social Policy Statement, and Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice) require nurses to be accountable to both their patients and the larger healthcare system.
Over the years there has been a shift in the conceptualization of the role of the nurse from loyal subordinate to autonomous advocate. The Code directs nurses to act to change those aspects of social structures that detract from the health and well-being of the individual patient, as well as of the individual nurse. Notably, the Code states that collective bargaining is an ethical and appropriate action that not only assures the right to just compensation and humane working conditions for all nurses, but also helps nurses to fulfill their ethical obligation to balance the interests of themselves and their patients.
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The role of the EGW Program is to identify conditions that raise barriers to the provision of quality nursing care. It then participates in institutional, organizational, and legislative efforts to address those barriers, promote health, and improve working conditions for nurses. NYSNA currently represents nearly 37,000 nurses for collective bargaining at more than 180 facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, public school systems, prisons, community health agencies, and home care.
These nurses recognize that belonging to a nurses’ union helps them fulfill their obligation to effectively influence and implement standards of practice within the employment setting and to ensure employment conditions that permit delivery of the highest quality of nursing care.
Until 2012, The NYSNA Delegate Assembly functioned as an elected body of NYSNA bargaining unit members serving as a resource to local bargaining units, the NYSNA Board of Directors, and the EGW Program. The purpose of the Delegate Assembly was to advance the mission of the Association, particularly as it relates to the Economic and General Welfare Program.
During 2012, a historic meeting took place when thousands of NYSNA members voted in favor of several by-laws changes. One of the changes merged the Delegate Assembly with the Board of Directors, increasing the number of Board members to 21 including a representative from each of six regions in the state.
In accordance with principles of shared leadership, the mission of the Congress is to consult with, advise, and inform the Board of Directors on issues pertinent to the LBUs. It is composed of the chairperson/president of each local bargaining unit. An environment of shared leadership fosters the questioning of underlying assumptions and encourages innovation and creativity among the membership.
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The LBU includes every employee covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at a given facility. In most NYSNA bargaining units, all of these employees are registered professional nurses. Each LBU is a separate entity, governed by its own rules and CBA.
The working lives of LBU members are governed by the mutually agreed-upon rights and obligations in the CBA, which are protected by law. The collective bargaining process thus provides the structure and motivation for nurses to solve problems in the workplace. It provides RNs with the vehicle to influence terms and conditions of employment, the quality of their work life, and their ability to provide safe patient care.
The work of the LBU is carried out through a committee structure. Committees help develop bargaining unit leaders and encourage individual member involvement. The description, purpose, goals and objectives of each committee may be found in the LBU rules.
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Leadership holds the key to transforming the nursing community. Transformational leadership places emphasis on interpersonal relationships and is defined as the ability to create supportive environments of shared responsibility that lead to new ways of knowing. By taking leadership roles, LBU members become involved with other nurses who are actively engaged in efforts to positively influence the nursing profession.
The Executive Committee consists of officers elected by the LBU membership, such the president/chair, vice president/vice chair and secretary. The role of the executive committee includes assessing the overall status of the LBU and planning strategies for meeting goals.
The Labor Management Committee includes representatives from both labor and management. The committee addresses the labor concerns of the membership; investigates, develops, and implements a plan of action; and promotes adherence to the collective bargaining agreement.
The Grievance Committee is comprised of the elected grievance chairperson and delegates. The committee reviews work-related problems expressed by any bargaining unit member; determines whether the problem constitutes a contractual violation; and takes appropriate and timely action to process a grievance or facilitate resolutions to other work-place problems.
The goal of the Nursing Practice Committee is to develop an avenue through which the LBU members and Nursing Administration can communicate effectively and facilitate actions that directly impact upon and improve the organization and the overall delivery of nursing services.Other LBU committees include the Membership Committee and Rules Committee. The LBU also may choose to create a Health & Safety Committee, Internal Organizing Committee, or Political Advisory Committee.
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The collective bargaining process begins when the majority of workers of an organization vote to be represented by a specific union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) then certifies the union. At this point, the management of the organization must recognize the union as the collective bargaining agent for all the employees of that organization. Once this part of the process is completed, collective bargaining can begin.
The local bargaining unit and facility management then must come to a mutual agreement on the terms and conditions of employment. Collective bargaining allows employees to participate in decision-making processes that establish employment rights, responsibilities, and terms and conditions of employment within the work setting. Individual employees become empowered by exercising influence and control over their workplace environment. Collective bargaining is a two-part process involving:
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Negotiations between NYSNA and employers have produced contracts that govern wages, hours, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment, such as staffing, a safe workplace environment, floating, orientation, and mandatory overtime.
The art of negotiating is two-fold: debating the merits of various proposals and organizing the power that can be exercised by either side. During the course of negotiations, numerous obstacles are likely to surface. Overcoming them requires not only a knowledge of how collective bargaining works, but a clear understanding of the contract issues and the people involved in the negotiations process.
Traditionally, subjects of bargaining fall into three categories: mandatory, permissive, or illegal.
Mandatory subjects of bargaining are wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. They must be negotiated in the contract, and an employer is barred from unilateral action in these areas. Management is excluded from making its own individual agreement with the employees, unless it receives a waiver from the union.
“Wages” can include hourly rates of pay, incentive plans, overtime pay, shift differentials, paid holidays, paid vacations, and severance pay. Pensions and welfare plans, wage increases, and sign-on bonuses are all mandatory subjects of bargaining under the term wages.
“Hours” refers to the particular hours of the day and the particular days of the week during which employees may be required to work.
“Other terms and conditions of employment” include areas such as a grievance procedure, layoffs, discharge, seniority and promotions, workloads, job descriptions, sick leave, work rules, definition of bargaining unit work, and performance of bargaining unit work by supervisors.
Permissive subjects of bargaining may be negotiated, but only if both the union and employer elect to do so. For example, facility organization, size and the composition of the supervisory force, facility practices, and locations of off-site clinics are generally considered to be controlled by management. They may become subjects of bargaining, but the union cannot force bargaining on permissive subjects as a precondition to bargaining on mandatory subjects.
Illegal subjects of bargaining are topics that cannot lawfully be included in the contract. For example, recognition of the union is not subject to bargaining, as this is accomplished through an election established by law.
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Federal and state laws regulate the relationship between employer and employee; workers’ rights to decide whether or not they wish to be represented by a union; and minimum wages, benefits, and working conditions.
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): Governs labor relations in the private business sector. The NLRA states that employees have the right to self-organize; to form, join, or assist labor organizations; and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. Both employees of private, for-profit healthcare institutions and employees of voluntary, not-for-profit healthcare institutions are protected in their right to organize for collective bargaining purposes.
Wagner Act: Includes two major components: employer unfair labor practices and employer representative elections. It prohibits employers from using interference, restraint, or coercion in the employee’s exercise of the right to self-organize, to engage in collective bargaining, or to engage in concerted activities. It also prohibits employers from refusing to bargain in good faith, dominating employee unions, discriminating against employees for union activities, and retaliating against employees who file unfair labor practice charges against the employer.
Civil Services Reform Act (1978): Establishes the right of federal employees to be represented by unions and to negotiate a grievance procedure.
Fair Labor Standards Act: Sets the nation’s basic labor standards, such as minimum wages, overtime pay, and limits on the employment of children.
Taft-Hartley Act: An amendment to the NLRA that lists a series of union infractions that can be considered violations of federal labor law. It prohibits unions from interfering in employees’ choice of representation, causing employees to discriminate against other employees, paying for work not actually performed, or setting up secondary boycotts. It also requires unions to bargain in good faith.
Landrum-Griffin Act: Created the first “Bill of Rights” for union members. Significant aspects of this legislation include:
Other provisions were added in 1974, such as:
The Taylor Law: State law establishing the right of state, county, and municipal employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. Other provisions include:
While the Taylor Law grants public employees the right to collective bargaining, it denies them the right to strike. The penalties for striking are loss of pay for each day the employee is on strike, plus a fine of an additional day’s pay for every day on strike, plus potential discipline for misconduct.
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It is the nurse leader who supports his/her colleagues in critical thinking, moral and ethical decision making, and collective action. It is the nurse leader who challenges the process. It is the nurse leader who articulates and inspires the shared vision. It is the nurse leader who enables others to act and who guides his/her colleagues through the tension and division that collective action may engender among some of our colleagues. It is the nurse leader who encourages the heart. And it is the nurse leader who advances the quality and safety of care through the inquiry and the application of advocacy within the profession and across the nation. This is the commitment of a transformational nurse leader.
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When you have finished studying this module, you may complete the online examination. You are required to achieve a minimum score of 80% on the exam in order to continue onto the next module. After successful completion of each module and examination, you will be notified by a member of the EPR Program staff that you may continue.
When you have completed all five modules and examinations, you are eligible to apply for consideration as a candidate to become a Fellow in the Leadership Academy.