General Labor

Staying connected through union communications

02.15.2007

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February 2007 Edition

An effective communication system-in all it various forms-and the free flow of information is critical for a strong and vibrant union. But despite the best efforts of many labor organizations, union members frequently feel disconnected from their organization.

The strength of a union lies in its members. And, as with any grass-roots democracy, an informed membership is critical for a strong and healthy polity. As issues are aired, vigorous and constructive discussions and debates often results, thereby building a stronger and more secure, effective union. As the union keeps the flow of information open, it also stems the unrelenting tide of rumor and mis-information—intentional or otherwise—that emanates from multiple sources.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association strives to not only keep its membership informed, but to challenge each member to actively participate in all of its union processes. A union is not a passive organization: It is unlike most other entities in that it demands action in order to be successful and strong. If a union is regarded as simply an inactive service organization that members draw upon as needed, the result is a flabby, lifeless and powerless shadow of a union.

Communication structures are therefore critical to every bargaining unit. The MNA has numerous ways of communicating with its membership, including:

  • The Massachusetts Nurse
  • The MNA Web site massnurses.org
  • An email contact system
  • Direct membership mailings
  • Phone trees
  • Local unit newsletters
  • Local unit bargaining updates
  • Regional newsletters
  • Bargaining unit bulletin boards
  • Union meeting

Most of these are primarily intended to be used internally by the MNA membership, but some of the aforementioned communications tools are regularly accessed and viewed by the public and hospital managers alike. In fact, periodic issues of the Massachusetts Nurse are sent out to all registered nurses in the state, and every elected official in the Statehouse receives a copy of each edition.

The reality is, as with many organizations, that few members attend regular union meetings unless there is a crisis or contract negotiations in progress. Therefore it is important to utilize other ways of connecting with members. As the technology changes, more and more options become available. Publications are always critical, in that they allow for in-depth coverage of often complicated issues. They also provide a written historical account that can be retained in a records system. Written articles can also be copied and circulated to a greater audience.

Finally, when one considers the total lack of regular labor coverage in the popular press (radio, TV, newspapers and magazines) internal union communications become vital. Most media outlets have limited time, space, expertise and incentive to report on current labor issues such as the “Kentucky River” NLRB decisions. Yet, these types of cases can have a significant impact on MNA members. In addition, the popular media is more interested in reporting on flashy stories that generate headlines?and sales?such as strikes and pickets. The vast majority of labor contracts that are settled each year simply are not press-worthy unless they were preceded by a public campaign. Scandal sells, while day-to-day hard work and achievements do not.

As a result, it becomes the job-no, the duty-of the union to report these issues to it membership. Why? Well, just imagine what your nursing practice would be like if your only information came from:

  • Your hospital management team for information on the supposed wonders of “Magnet” status
  • Your CEO for the financial status of their facility
  • The Massachusetts Hospital Association for information on the safe staffing bill

Your union plays a critical role in sorting through such misinformation and in communicating the truth to you and your peers. But it is the responsibility of each individual union member to take advantage of the communication tools and to engage in the discussions and activities that the union offers.