After years of increasingly divisive debate over "professionalism" vs. "unionism," the Maryland Nurses Association and about 1,000 union contract nurses they represent have parted company.
The MNA voted at its weekend convention to eliminate collective bargaining from its purposes, and the registered nurses covered by MNA contracts officially formed the Professional Staff Nurses Association yesterday to continue that representation.
"We have agreed on a professional transition," said Carol Bragg, a nurse at Prince George's Hospital Center and president of the new group. "We won't be shutting doors behind us, but building new bridges with MNA."
For nearly 25 years, MNA's members have included staff nurses, nursing supervisors and nurse educators -- groups with differing job objectives.
Many members were opposed to MNA acting as a labor union. And members who were covered by MNA union contracts objected to fellow MNA members representing employers during their contract bargaining.
The ongoing member debate over the proper role of state nursing organizations within the American Nurses Association resulted in union nurse groups in New Jersey and Washington state breaking away. About 70 percent of the 200,000 ANA members are covered by union contracts.
Finances as well as philosophy played a key role in the schism of the 2,900-member MNA.
A year ago, the union group won its convention fight to keep all MNA dues from its members for union purposes. This year the anti-union group pushed for separation, claiming that MNA was only a year away from bankruptcy without dues from union-group members.
"The successful melding of a labor union and a professional association has escaped us despite years of attempts," the MNA board of directors said. Such attempts have drained the treasury reserves, and current dues do not cover expenses, the board stated.
Addie Eckardt, president of MNA, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"There was really nothing we could do about it; it was the will of the majority," Ms. Bragg said. "We wouldn't have volunteered to leave, but we have much of the [union] program in place already."
She expressed hope that MNA and the new association, which filed registration papers with the U.S. Labor Department yesterday, can work together on professional issues of common concern.
The separation should help in organizing other units of nurses, she said, because the new group can focus on needs of its own members and expand bargaining efforts.