The New York Times this week examined how the female leaders of health care-related unions have rekindled hope for organized labor and inspired nationwide movements like Occupy Wall Street.
In recent years, women leaders at labor unions—including the National Nurses United's (NNU) Rose Ann DeMoro and the Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) Mary Kay Henry—have pushed boundaries and engaged traditional labor foes, the Times reports. "Some of these women might even make unions relevant to the average American again," says labor journalist Steve Early.
NNU's Rose Ann DeMoro inspires national 'Occupy' movement
DeMoro began her career in nursing unions in 1986 at the California Nurses Association, where she fought to pass nurse-patient ratio laws and took on the state government. Recently, she brought together local nursing unions from across the United States to form NNU, one of the nation's largest unions, which counts approximately 170,000 members.
According to the Times, DeMoro runs NNU with "dramatic flair." As its executive director, she began the "Heal America, Tax Wall Street" movement, which hopes to implement a 0.5% tax on stock trades and credit swaps. If implemented, the tax would generate up to $350 billion per year for health, education, and jobs programs.
DeMoro—along with about 1,000 RNs—promoted the tax on Wall Street in June and later visited 60 congressional offices in 21 states to urge adoption of the tax. According to the Times, the nurses' efforts inspired Occupy Wall Street protesters, with Andy Pollack, a committee member in Manhattan, noting that "nurses go beyond their own contract issues and try to tackle the root of the problem."
SEIU's Kay Henry aims to heal ailing union
Following her graduation from Michigan State University, Henry joined SEIU as a researcher. Over the years, she has planned nursing strikes in Kaiser Permanente hospitals in San Francisco and helped Seattle nurses negotiate with their employers.
In 2010, she was elected SEIU's president, promising to heal the organization following a contentious battle for power among the nation's largest unions. As the first woman to lead the two million-member union, Henry has set a diplomatic tone, the Times reports.
Specifically, she is courting politicians, including Republicans, in an effort to mitigate cuts to services that benefit union members. For example, SEIU in California has launched a political action committee to elect moderate Republicans in GOP counties (Sharp, Times, 11/19).