Ahead of Labor Day, Secretary Marty Walsh and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler hosted a virtual roundtable on collective bargaining and organizing in America. We asked Amy Waters, a member of National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United and a participant in the roundtable, to share her experience with organizing and how their union has supported them.
What made you and your coworkers want to organize?
Our nonprofit community hospital was bought out by a large for-profit hospital system. They immediately began cutting jobs, including supportive roles such as nurse’s aides, unit secretaries, housekeeping. Work became a nightmare. A group of four nurses decided a union may be the only way we could take back some control over how our hospital was run. So they contacted National Nurses United (NNU), and we grew from there.&
What has your experience with organizing and collective bargaining been like?
It has been one of the best experiences of my life. I work in Pediatric ICU, and typically have no interaction with most of the hospital. Organizing has introduced me to amazing people from every unit in the hospital. When you realize the power you have in solidarity, it’s the best feeling ever. I have never felt so empowered in my life as I do now, knowing together, we are strong!
How has your union-supported you?
I have developed wonderful relationships with my union brothers and sisters. The union leaders have led us through organizing (North Carolina is a right-to-work state), a VERY long wait to get our vote (thanks, COVID), and then to victory with an overwhelming win to have our union! My union leaders and friends have supported me in being on our first bargaining team, and helped us win an amazing first contract. I know that my union will always have my back, and that means so much.
Over 60 million Americans say they would join a union if they could. What would you say to someone who asked you about whether they should organize a union at their workplace?
I would say that if you feel unsupported by your company, if workplace safety is not a priority for your employers, if you want a place at the table when decisions are made about how you do your job, then you need a union! If a bunch of nurses in the South – a place where all of us are led to believe we would be fired if we tried to unionize – could win the first nursing union in our state, then you can do it, too. It is a LOT of work, there will be some stress and tears, but if everyone works together, you can accomplish anything. This is something so important not only for yourselves but for future workers. I know that when I was stressing out during organizing, I kept reminding myself that I’m doing this for the new nurses, who shouldn’t work thinking that poor working conditions are the norm and OK. I’m doing it for the future of my profession.