The Alaska Nurses Association (AaNA) Labor Program formally announced April 8 that it has agreed to affiliate with the AFT Nurses and Health Professionals.
The announcement was made jointly by AaNA Labor Council Chair Donna Phillips in Anchorage and AFT President Randi Weingarten in Washington, D.C. The two organizations had been in discussions for several months, culminating in a meeting of the two leaders in Anchorage in late March.
In voting over the last two weeks, registered nurses in bargaining units represented by the Labor Program overwhelmingly affirmed the earlier decision of the AaNA Labor Council board to seek affiliation with the AFT. The affiliation was also approved by the AFT executive council in a special meeting.
"We are excited and honored that Alaska's nurses have put their confidence in the AFT, as a voice and fighter for nurses and for quality healthcare," Weingarten says. "Alaska's nurses will be joining our union of professionals, 1.6 million members strong, including 113,000 members working in the healthcare industry across the nation, as we continue to fight for quality care, safe staffing levels and high professional standards—and demand that hospitals and healthcare facilities put patients before profits. We look forward to working with our new Alaska members to ensure they have the tools and conditions they need to care and advocate for the people they serve."
Phillips says the announcement concludes the process that began 18 months ago when the Alaska nurses launched an initiative to investigate possible affiliation with a national union and to identify and review possible partners.
"We sought a national union with a record of representing registered nurses, one that is active in the AFL-CIO and a partner that will give AaNA members a voice in the national policies that affect their work every day," Phillips says. "We are professionals—and the AFT is the pre-eminent union of professionals in American labor today."
The AFT Nurses and Health Professionals division members include 85,000 registered nurses in 19 states. The Alaska affiliation will add more than 1,300 nurses in three bargaining units to that membership.
"An affiliation with the national union will provide AaNA with training and mentoring opportunities for new and existing leaders, professional development for our members, assistance with new organizing efforts and support for AaNA's existing bargaining units," Phillips says. The partnership with the AFT ultimately will give Alaska nurses a role in the national union's policies and programs for registered nurses and other healthcare professionals.
As they join the AFT family, Weingarten says, "Alaska's nurses will find a welcoming home, joining their colleagues who devote their lives to making a difference every day for the patients, students and many others they serve. Our members deserve—as frankly do all American workers—respect and dignity for the work they do."
Changes in the healthcare industry, particularly recent trends toward mergers and acquisitions that have produced several large multistate and nationwide care-provider systems, led the AaNA General Assembly to adopt a resolution in 2013 to investigate affiliating with a national union.
Two large provider systems operating in Alaska employ many AaNA members. The two systems are Providence Health & Services Alaska, which is part of the third-largest not-for-profit health system in the United States, as well as PeaceHealth Medical System, which operates the Ketchikan Medical Center, as well as other facilities in Alaska, Oregon and Washington. The AaNA's third bargaining unit represents nurses at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna.
Phillips says the new partnership with the AFT will help strengthen the voices of nurses currently in contract talks with Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Weingarten notes that as a result of the previous affiliation of the National Federation of Nurses, AFT affiliates in Oregon and Washington state already represent nurses at other hospitals in both the Providence and the PeaceHealth systems. In Alaska, the AFT already represents thousands of state and local public workers; faculty and classified staff in the university, community and technical college system; and teachers and paraprofessionals in public schools, all of whom are affiliated with the AFT's state federation, the Alaska Public Employees Association/AFT—one of the oldest and largest public employee unions in the state.
"We are pleased that Alaska's nurses have made the decision to affiliate with the AFT," says APEA/AFT President Cecily Hodges. "Nurses share the commitment to quality services and professional standards that are central to the mission of public employees, educators and the many others who make APEA/AFT an important voice in Alaska."
AaNA's Phillips emphasizes the shared values and experience that led to the choice of the AFT. "The AaNA Labor Council sought to learn what a national union organization could provide to the Alaska Nurses Association Labor Program," Phillips says. "Ultimately, the Labor Council team concluded that the AFT was the best fit for AaNA's Labor Program membership, our history and our vision for the future."
[AFT/Alaska Nurses Association press release]