NNU has smart, tough leaders and compelling "us-versus-them" and "patient-first" messages that resonate not only with the nurses they hope to organize, but with tens of millions of Americans who play by the rules and still feel like they're getting a raw deal.
The union has gained considerable success and notice since it consolidated the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses, and Massachusetts Nurses Association in December 2009. The "super union" now boasts more than 150,000 members within a national network and has won most —if not all—of the organizing efforts it has undertaken.
Savvy leadership and a compelling message—while important—are not the only keys to NNU's success. Seasoned and tough leaders can be found in other unions that have not fared as well. In 2010, only 11.9% of the U.S. workforce was unionized, down from 12.3% in 2009. Unions have seen a mostly steady decline in membership since 1954, when about 28% of the workforce was organized, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Union supporters believe that more U.S. workers would join unions if they could. They don't, the explanation goes, because these workers haven't the leverage to bargain with management, especially in a weak economy plagued by high unemployment.