Oral History and Analysis of Nysna Essay
In the late 1800s, oral history was the only way to pass stories down in order to preserve cultures and traditions. According to Encarta Word Dictionary, oral history is a written work of history based on interviews with or recordings of participants. It is one of the most traditional ways of retelling and learning history. For my oral history project, I interviewed a delegate from the New York State Nurses’ Association (NYSNA) union. Throughout this paper I will show the advantages of having or being part of an effective union.
Unionization is recognized mostly as representation for workers in many industries. It is the coming together of workers to pursue policies and goals that is beneficial to all. The most prominent unions can be found in the public sector such as teachers, police officers and nurses. Today most unions are aligned with two organizations, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) and the Change to Win Federation. Both organizations advocate policies favorable for workers in the United States and Canada.
Public sector unions are governed by labor laws and the labor board in each state (US Dept. of Labor). In the private sector, unions are regulated by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was passed in 1935. The NLRA protect the right of workers to organize unions. It protects the right of workers to engage in any “concerted activity” for mutual aid or protection (Mills). The NLRA is overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. The New York State Nurses Association is the largest union for registered nurses (RN) in the Northeast.
They currently have more than 34,000 members. NYSNA is a strong union for RNs. They fight to protect nurses’ rights, a safe well-staffed working environment, fair wages and benefits, and to ensure members well-being. NYSNA believes that nurses have a right to participate in decisions affecting them as employees and professionals (NYSNA). I interviewed Ms Helen Dunn, a registered nurse for more than twenty years. For the past ten years she has been a union delegate of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).
Ms Dunn is an immigrant from Namibia, Africa and she firmly believes that workers are to unite in order to achieve more. During the interview she made reference to her father who was a miner, and a union member. While growing up she observed her father and his co-workers unite as a union so there was only one voice on issues of wages, safety, benefits and work conditions. This personal experience influenced her decision to become a union delegate. Recently one of the main issues facing nurses in New York was mandatory overtime. Since 2000, NYSNA proposed a legislation to ban mandatory overtime for nurses.
It prohibited employers from requiring nurses to work beyond their “regularly scheduled work hours. ” In August, 2008 the bill was signed to take effect July, 2009. It was proposed by the Office of Professions that working beyond 16 hours is a willful disregard for patient safety and could result in a charge of unprofessional conduct (NYSNA). Therefore nurses now can quote the mandatory overtime law when their employers require them to work past their scheduled hours. I also discussed with Ms Dunn health and safety for employees.
When asked about how employers monitors the health and safety for their employees, she mentioned that currently at the hospital where she works, there is a workforce, health and safety department for all employees. Upon hire, employees must be cleared by this department before reporting on duty. In addition if after initial screening, a health and safety issue such as drug abuse, mental disorder, or any health crisis that interferes with the employee’s job duties, is identified, the employee is referred to workforce, health and safety department for investigation.
In addition to employees being fit for duty, employers must ensure that the work environment is safe for all employees. In 1911 due to unsafe working conditions, a fire occurred at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Many women from this factory lost their lives because of the company’s failure to follow the fire regulations of the state. As a result of the fire, the women of the garment industry organized and formed The International Ladies Garment Workers Union. These ladies were able to fight for better and safer working condition for garment workers.
As with the nurses today, they identified some issues that like the women at the triangle factory were not safe working conditions. One was the mandatory overtime, mentioned earlier. They identified the problem and took measures to correct it so that their health and that of their patients are safe. Another issue was toxic chemicals. It is not clear when administering meds the effect it has on the patient or the healthcare worker. Political figures such as Senator Bobby Rush of Illinois put together a legislature called the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) which is regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection (EPA).
This act will allow EPA to monitor the effects chemicals have on the worker (NYSNA) Additionally, we now have regulatory agencies such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that the women in the Triangle factory didn’t have. OSHA advocates for the health and safety in the workplace. This administration’s purpose is to limit work-related injury, illness, and death due to known unsafe working conditions. The tradgeis that resulted int 1911 in NYC could have been avoided if the owners of the factory followed the state, building and regulatory rules of the FDNY.
Also, being part or a union, there are further protections built into most union contracts requiring certain measures be taken to ensure appropriate work place. The interview with Ms Dunn broached several aspects of our class discussions. The first of which was immigration. Ms Dunn is an immigrant who did not come to the Americas as an indentured servant or slave as discussed in our readings, but she understands the concept to coming to a new country and adapting to its cultures to achieve more. Another concept was unionization.
She had personal experience on how joining a union results in positive outcomes. Being of African descent, and a woman, she has also faced the struggles of gender and race discriminations. Discrimination based on race, class or gender is still an issue today; however is it not as prevalent now as it was in the 1900s. Currently unions are gaining strength with more members joining everyday. Based on Ms Dunn’s interview and information on NYSNA, we see that unions make a substantial and measurable difference in workers’ lives.
The union is able to negotiate better wages, more benefits and help to monitor health and safety issues for their members. Based on these issues discussed in this paper, the union is what workers need. In the early 1900s workers had to fight hard, sometimes facing prison to achieve a bare minimum of what we have today. To join the union today, we just sign papers, pay our dues and we are part of a union. We sometime forget the struggles that our forefathers had to endure for us to have the priviledge. Let us be mindful and remember that everyone working together towards a common goal is the meaning of unionization.