NYSNA Members Sue Over Board's Action to Disaffiliate from United American Nurses
Michelle Amber, Bureau of National Affairs, February 4, 2008
Upset with the decision of the New York State Nurses Association's
board of directors to disaffiliate from its parent union, the United
American Nurses, three current or former members of the board have sued
the organization claiming their colleagues violated NYSNA's bylaws and
policies through the board's action.
In addition, the results of an election of NYSNA officers held last
year in which the current board was elected are being challenged by a
group of members who ran on a slate as pro-UAN candidates.
NYSNA is one of four state nurses associations that notified UAN
shortly before Christmas that they were disaffiliating immediately.
The other state associations that disaffiliated were the Oregon Nurses
Association, the Washington State Nurses Association, and the Ohio
Nurses Association. The four groups, which together make up about 60
percent of the 100,000-member UAN, cited continuing affiliation talks
by the UAN leaders with the Service Employees International Union as a
major factor for the action, but not the only one.
More recently, the New Jersey State Nurses Association Jan. 18 notified
UAN that it also was disaffiliating. NJSNA Deputy Director Sharon
Rainer told BNA that the board had an emergency meeting based on the
disaffiliations of the other state associations and decided to follow
suit. "We didn't know what would happen with UAN in the future" with so
many members disaffiliating, she said.
UAN Charges Board, Not Members, Voted
UAN President Ann Converso acknowledged that the groups that have
disaffiliated constitute about 60 percent of UAN's membership. She
charged, however, that at least in New York, the votes to disaffiliate
were taken by the board of directors, which includes managers and
supervisors who cannot participate in bargaining, rather than by the
individual nurses and that staff nurses in New York are not happy with
Converso pointed out that UAN's National Labor Assembly, the highest
governing body of the union, is scheduled to meet March 9-10 in Denver.
If the state associations "truly" had 60 percent of the membership
behind them, they would have sent delegates to the NLA, brought
resolutions that "would have been passed," and elected new officers,
The five nurses groups are state affiliates of the American Nurses
Association. In 1999, delegates to ANA's House of Delegates voted to
form UAN as a separate labor entity within the association for those
nurses who engage in collective bargaining. In 2001, UAN became an
affiliate of the AFL-CIO, but also remained part of ANA. In January
2003, delegates to UAN's National Labor Assembly approved a five-year
affiliation agreement with ANA under which UAN became an autonomous,
self-governed national labor organization, linked to ANA through
affiliation and service agreements that cover finances, support
services, and relationships.
NYSNA is both a professional organization for all registered nurses
including supervisors and managers in New York and a union that
represents nurses in collective bargaining. In response to a 1983
decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that found
NYSNA was dominated by supervisors and thus not a bona fide labor
organization, NYSNA enacted bylaws to insulate its collective
bargaining functions from its functions as an association. In 1988, the
same court found that NYSNA had insulated its collective bargaining
program sufficiently to avoid a "clear and present danger of a conflict
Supervisory Domination Alleged
Whether the association's collective bargaining program continues to be
insulated from supervisory domination is at the heart of a lawsuit
filed January 10 in the US District Court for the Southern District of
New York by three NYSNA members who are current or former members of
the board of directors (Holloman v. New York State Nurses Assn., SDNY,
No. 08-CV-00211, filed 1/10/08).
The three nurses charged that the NYSNA board of directors violated the
bylaws of the organization by acting unlawfully to disaffiliate from
UAN. In addition, they charged that NYSNA violated the Labor-Management
Reporting and Disclosure Act by disciplining them for exercising their
right to speak out and oppose NYSNA's efforts to disaffiliate from UAN.
According to the lawsuit, NYSNA's bylaws prohibit the board of
directors, which includes nonunion members and supervisors, from
participating in or influencing the conduct of the collective
In mid-2007, some members of the NYSNA leadership became unhappy with
NYSNA's relationship with UAN. At an August 8, 2007, executive session
of a board meeting, six of the 10 board members present, out of 13
members, voted to poll the NYSNA membership on whether to stay in the
UAN or disaffiliate. The other four members of the board present at the
meeting, including plaintiffs Patricia Leo Holloman and Judy
Sheridan-Gonzales, opposed the decision to take the poll and voted
"no." Lorna Samuels, the third plaintiff, was not at the meeting but
indicated that she would have voted "no."
Later Holloman, Sheridan-Gonzales, Samuels, and another dissenting
board member presented a written minority report to the board
explaining that they opposed the poll because they believed it violated
the "insulation" policies of the organization since the disaffiliation
involved a matter directly impacting the collective bargaining program.
The board majority, however, ruled that the minority report was an
amendment to the minutes of the executive session and therefore could
not be made public.
The disaffiliation poll was held between Aug. 28 and Sept. 11. The
plaintiffs and about 20 other nurses formed a group called NYSNA Nurses
for Unity and campaigned vigorously against the disaffiliation. At the
same time several board members and staff including the chief executive
officer campaigned in favor of the disaffiliation.
The poll votes were counted September 18 and the results were 2,312 to
1,533 against disaffiliation. In September and October, various
internal charges were filed against the 23 nurses who participated in
NYSNA Nurses for Unity alleging that the nurses engaged in conduct
detrimental to NYSNA. In November, the board dismissed the complaints,
stating that the alleged wrongful actions were "protected under the
freedom of speech provision of applicable federal law." The board,
however, on November 30 notified Holloman and Sheridan-Gonzalez, both
of whom had been members of the board up until their defeat in October,
and Samuels, who is currently the secretary of the board of directors,
that action was being taken against them because as board members they
engaged in public dissension by publicly opposing the board. Each was
told she would not be considered for appointment to any NYSNA board or
nominated for any ANA related position. In addition, Samuels was
prohibited from attending all executive session meetings and denied
from being appointed to any executive committee or council.
Even though a majority of those polled voted not to disaffiliate, the
board voted December 17 to disaffiliate from UAN and notified UAN of
its decision December 21. Samuels was excluded from the December 17
meeting and not permitted to vote.
According to the complaint, the board violated its own bylaws, which
bar it from participating in actions affecting collective bargaining.
The disaffiliation affected the collective bargaining program because
UAN provided national financial and educational support for NYSNA's
bargaining activities, and it offered its members the benefits of
affiliation with the AFL-CIO.
The complaint also charged that the board violated its own past
practice. According to the plaintiffs, in 1999 the board voted to
affiliate with UAN only after NYSNA's delegate assembly voted to
recommend affiliation. In making its decision to disaffiliate, however,
the board did not convene the delegate assembly nor allow it to vote,
the complaint said.
Nancy Webber, an NYSNA spokeswoman, confirmed that three members have
filed a lawsuit, but told BNA that the suit involves "internal
operations." She added that none of the nurses had received any
Election Complaint Filed With DOL
Meanwhile, a complaint was re-filed Feb. 1 with the Labor Department
seeking to overturn the results of the election of NYSNA officers last
summer that included contests for the president-elect, treasurer, four
board of director members, and delegates to the association's house of
The complaint, which was filed on behalf of 13 members who ran together
on a slate called Nurses for Unity, alleges that NYSNA resources were
used to aid the other slate of candidates and to address an issue in
play, that of the disaffiliation, during the election campaign. In
addition, the complaint alleges that NYSNA resources were used to
attack members who were identified with the NYSNA Nurses for Unity
slate, NYSNA discriminatorily applied the election rules to benefit the
other slate, and NYSNA did not put into place any verifiable safeguards
to insure that votes received by e-mail were actually cast by the
members in whose names they were cast.
The original complaint was filed with DOL December 21, but the
department said the nurses had to exhaust their appeal to the UAN
first, according to Arthur Schwartz of Schwartz, Lichten & Bright
in New York City, who filed the DOL complaint on behalf of the nurses.
In response, Schwartz said, UAN has notified DOL that it does not have
an appeal process for elections and he re-filed the complaint.
Anne Bove, who ran unsuccessfully for the president-elect position,
told BNA that she and the other unsuccessful candidates are challenging
the election because the officers who were elected, many of whom have
never participated in collective bargaining, are the ones who made the
decision to withdraw from UAN.
Bove said the biggest question now is what happens next since NYSNA is
no longer affiliated with UAN. She said NYSNA-represented nurses no
longer have the protection of the AFL-CIO so its units could be raided
by other unions.
Webber said the protection from raiding was one of the reasons NYSNA
wanted to belong to the AFL-CIO, but "a lot has changed" since then
including the disaffiliation of SEIU from the federation. NYSNA has
always maintained that "we don't have to worry about raids if we do a
good job for our members," she added.
Relationship Between UAN, ANA in Question
All of this is occurring at a time when the relationship between UAN
and the ANA is in question. Prior to the announcement of the
disaffiliations, the ANA board of directors notified both UAN and the
Center for American Nurses, which represents the workplace interests of
individual nurses who do not participate in collective bargaining, that
it is terminating their affiliation agreements when they expire June
30. The board, however, said it was willing to have discussions about
pursuing "different types of business relationships" with the two
Converso said UAN intends is to talk with ANA about another type of
relationship but at this point does not know what that relationship
might be. She said UAN currently is paying ANA more than $1 million for
space and services and UAN does not want to continue to do that.
In a Jan. 7 statement announcing the termination of the affiliation,
ANA said the board of directors reaffirmed its support for its diverse
membership having the freedom to choose collective bargaining or other
approaches to workforce advocacy. "ANA is fully committed to offering
its members participation in both labor and workforce advocacy
programs. To that end, absent the affiliation agreements between ANA
and the AOMs [Associate Organizational Members], the [state nurses
associations] may receive a grant from ANA for their own labor or
workforce advocacy programs. This money could be put toward the payment
of dues to UAN or the Center, as the state association deems
Relationship With AFL-CIO Unclear
Meanwhile, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney January 8 notified the
state labor federations in New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington that
the four state nurses association are "no longer eligible to
participate in the federation at the state or local level" due to the
disaffiliation from UAN.
In a letter to the presidents of the four state federations, Sweeney
wrote that the AFL-CIO has been meeting with the leadership of the UAN
about this matter and continues to urge that "the issues which have
caused this decision [to disaffiliate] be addressed through direct
negotiations among the parties and I have offered the assistance of the
national AFL-CIO in seeking such a resolution."
In a separate letter to the presidents and collective bargaining
directors of the four nurses associations, Sweeney wrote that he
understood that "there is a sincere desire" by the organizations to
remain part of the AFL-CIO. "I appreciate your position on this matter
and certainly want to do everything I can to maintain your
participation in the greater labor movement. Any continued
participation in the AFL-CIO would have to be approved by the Executive
Council, and that approval, no doubt, would only be given with the
consent of the UAN's national leadership." Sweeney then urged the
principles to seek to address "all of these issues through direct, good
faith, negotiations with the UAN."
Pointing to Sweeney's letter, Converso told BNA that "despite what they
have been saying" the state affiliates that left UAN are "out of the
AFL-CIO." She said UAN is the AFL-CIO affiliate, and the state
affiliates' relationship with the AFL-CIO was derived from the UAN
relationship. "They will not get a direct relationship" because UAN
will oppose any such effort, she said.
But, Paul Goldberg, the assistant executive director for labor
relations at the Oregon Nurses Association, told BNA that it is the
intention of the nurses to remain active in the labor movement, adding
he was not ruling out the possibility of remaining in the AFL-CIO.
Goldberg pointed to the fact that the California Nurses Association
last year became an affiliate of the AFL-CIO over the objections of
UAN. "Simply because one affiliate says another group should not be
allowed to be a member, that is not necessarily the outcome," he said,
adding each case is considered separately.
Goldberg added that the original four groups and the New Jersey group
made up more than 60 percent of the UAN membership, and they are
beginning to have discussions about creating a "formal entity" that
could seek a charter from the AFL-CIO. He said the groups are
optimistic that they could receive a charter, adding that there seems
to be support among the other unions in the AFL-CIO that represent
nurses as well as within the state labor federations.
Goldberg said he anticipates that another two or three state nurses
associations also will pull out of the UAN shortly. While he declined
to name the states, he said a couple currently are going through an
internal review process to decide whether or not to disaffiliate.
An AFL-CIO spokeswoman acknowledged that the federation is continuing
to be involved to see if the dispute can be resolved, but declined any