Unions - Good or Bad??

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Reply Wed 18 May, 2005 01:37 pm
Unions - Good or Bad??
With the shortage of nurses, I have seen many hospitals unionize. Unionization is a great way for nurses to have a voice, and get critical problems addressed by management. However, as a recruiter I have first hand knowledge of some of the shortcomings of unions that you all should know about if you are thinking about unionizing at your facility. I am not anti-union. The purpose of this post is to educate nurses on the positives and negatives of unions so that nurses can make more informed decisions.

Why form a union?
The top two reasons why employees form a union is low pay and poor working conditions. In the nursing profession, poor working conditions are usually associated with the shortage of nurses. This makes the nurse to patient ratio difficult to manage. On wages, basic economics tells us that when the supply of nurses goes down and the demand for nurses increases, then the price for their services should go up. The average wage for nurses has been increasing by 10-25% a year for the last several years. The challenge is that many hospitals have seen their profits decrease, and until recent years, they have become accustomed to giving 3-5% cost of living increases. So from an employer's perspective it may seem unreasonable to give 10% increases if they are used to giving 3-5%. Eventually employees start to receive job offers for more money at other facilities where there are more aggressive annual salary increases, and the perception that your employer has low pay all starts there.

It is becoming more and more popular for nurses to form unions to attempt to get their employers to resolve these issues. The problem is that unionizing doesn't solve these problems.

Will forming a union mean more money?
More often than not, unions initially get a substantial pay increase through their collective bargaining efforts. However, unions also tax employees with union dues. So your take home pay may not be increase as much as you would think.

On a long-term basis, unions can mean less money. Unions negotiate through collective bargaining agreements. They often times go for several years, and are so rigid that they can be prohibitive to hospitals that want to improve wages. For example, I was recruiting EEG techs at a facility in Minnesota. My client was paying approximately $5 below market. I advised my client to increase the compensation, so they approached the union about wanting to increase the wages for EEG techs. The union said that the wages would only be approved if the increase applied to every employee in the hospital. Obviously management balked at the offer, and all of the EEG techs have quit since that time. The facility is now fully staffed by traveling EEG techs.

Collective bargaining agreements are also too rigid when it comes to annual performance increases. Lets say your union negotiates annual pay increases over the next three years at 8% a year. If the market for nurses in your region has pay increasing in the 12-15% range, then as time progresses your job will slowly become less and less competitive. Over a long term basis, healthcare workers earn less in unions than in a non-union environment.

Will forming a union mean better working conditions?
I don't think so. If the poor working conditions are attributed to the nursing shortage, then how will forming a union increase the number of nurses in your area.

You can lobby for your employer to increase the nurse/patient ratio, but look at the state of California to see that it only makes matters worse. The ratio of travel nurses to permanent nurses in California is higher than anywhere else, and it is only pulling resources from other states. What happens 5 to 10 years from now, when the shortage of nurses is even more strained? If there are 3.5 million nurses in the US, and 4 million openings, then a union is not going to solve your problems.

Are unions good or bad?
Now having made the above points, I want to clarify that there are many good things that unions accomplish. Unions can be very effective in establishing communication and protocols between employees and management. Bottom line, the success of your union depends on the strength of union management and the unions understanding of the healthcare industry. They must have experience working in industries that have experiences dramatic shortages.

My suggested alternatives...
Unions were created to give the employees leverage to negotiate with. Nurses don't need this leverage because they already have this leverage. There are enough nursing jobs out there that nurses can vote with their feet.

If you don't want to look for a job elsewhere, then perhaps you should create a coalition rather than a union. Here is how a coalition works. As employees, you get together with the sole purpose of working WITH management to resolve matters. Work with management to create programs where you are educating young people on why they should enter the nursing profession. Talk to local community colleges about starting nursing programs in your area if there at not already some.

These are just my thoughts. I am sure that many of you have some strong opinions in regards to this topic, so please add your two cents. If you disagree with me, please be vocal about your opinion...but let's make this a healthy discussion rather than a mud-slinging argument.
bethann 1
Reply Sun 2 Oct, 2005 12:58 am
coming from a blue collar family [involved in both the uaw and cwa], i find it hard to believe the experience i had in a nurses union. growing up i saw the great advantage to being a union employee and how our lives improved dramatically with each contract that was ratified.
my personal experience was that union representation was not there for me when i was pulled on the carpet at a large university hospital and accused of something that did not happen. as i was ambushed and attempted to defend myself in an artificially created scenario [verbalized by an unlicensed personel whom i had asked to assist me and stop surfing the internet ] i requested a union rep be called into the meeting. i was told i needed to take responsibility for my actions, at which time i stood up and stated to the group that this was not a meeting, but an ambush and i would not continue without my rep present and i left. after 8 days i still had not heard back from the union stewart and the word of a ULAP was being taken over mine....long story short, i no longer work at the university hospital and i dont join unions who eagerly take the dues and give very little in return
Darla 1
Reply Sun 9 Oct, 2005 03:56 am
Unions in any profession have pros and cons but personally I'm 'pro union'. PA attempted to regulate nurse/patient ratio but the governor vetoed the legislation. Nurses are the backbone of healthcare yet we are the ones with the smallest voices. Many times when nurses(myself included) offer suggestions or question change we're basically called troublemakers. I've been in the position to report unsafe staffing or incompetent workers yet I was ignored or labelled a troublemaker. I've worked in two local hospitals where staff tried to organize a union. In turn emloyees received letters that unions weren't in the best interest of the hospital and those who made the attempt were 'disciplined'. Only nurses look out for nurses but unfortunately until we band together(formally or informally) change will not occur.
SharpknifeRN 1
Reply Mon 3 Apr, 2006 09:18 am
I had a very similar exeperince at a University Hospital in Florida to bethann's.
Infact the simliarities are kinda creepy, and no I no longer work there, but I just joined a union, at my other job. Nursing has big issues, like nurse to pt ratios. The professional organizations don't have the pull, and are not interested in solving these types of issues. Why not give the unions a chance? They did some good in California. Yes I have had mixed results with unions too. I was a "fireman and oiler" and a teamster at different times. F&O was good, teamsters just took my money. We will see I guess.
RN Recruiter
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 06:48 pm
Sharpknife---RN wrote:
I had a very similar exeperince at a University Hospital in Florida to bethann's.
Infact the simliarities are kinda creepy, and no I no longer work there, but I just joined a union, at my other job. Nursing has big issues, like nurse to pt ratios. The professional organizations don't have the pull, and are not interested in solving these types of issues. Why not give the unions a chance? They did some good in California. Yes I have had mixed results with unions too. I was a "fireman and oiler" and a teamster at different times. F&O was good, teamsters just took my money. We will see I guess.

I agree with all of the above posts. Nurse to patient ratios are the driving force behind unions today. Would there be a better way to tackle this subject rather than relying on unions to do it? It sounds like a heavy price to pay for such little results to this point.
Reply Sat 26 Aug, 2006 11:27 am
Nursing Unions
I have a undergraduate degree in Labor Relations and am also an RN working in ICU. Frankly, I think one of the reasons that nurses are so low paid with poor benefits is because nurses are not organized. Nurses hold a lot of power that they fail to wield in the work place. By organizing as a cohesive group they can effectively use this power to improve pay and working conditions.

I have worked as a bedside nurse and also as a manager in both union and nonunion hospitals. Improvements for nurses regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions varied based on how good the union was and how dedicated the union was to the people they represented. Not all unions are truely interested in working hard for their clients. These unions are not worth union dues. However, the union that does do a good job representing their clients is worth every penny.

I also found that management in nonunion hospitals were not consistent in their treatment of personnel. I'm sure you each have worked for managers that treated staff members differently based on how much they liked or disliked a person. I presently work in a situation where some of the nurses spend his/her entire shift surfing the internet or on a cell phone rather than doing his/her job. (And this is in an ICU). Nothing seems to be done about this and yet if a nurse is absent 4 times in a year his/her pay is adversely effected! Management can do this because the nursing staff is not cohesive enough to stand up to them.

In an unionized hospital, management has to follow the guidelines layed out in the union contract. This means, management has to be consistent in their treatment of staff. I personally like this.

Just a few comments about unions. I hope they help. Realize that the person who started this topic is in management and thus anti-union. There are pros and cons to both sides. However, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm tired of poor pay, poor benefits, and stupid management rules.
Reply Fri 10 Nov, 2006 01:51 pm
As an RN in Florida, a right to work state, I was impressed by the nurses in California. My daughter was hospitalized there in 2004, while I was visiting her I saw 'happy nurses'. They had nurse/patient ratios that were realistic, not the 9 patients I've had all to myself. The hospital had a 24/7 lift team. I saw smiling faces, not the overwhelmed expressions of nurses where I use to work. In Florida we were told during orientation that we could be fired on the spot. I told the director we had more due process with a parking ticket.
stellar 1
Reply Tue 10 Jul, 2007 09:56 am
The best union in my humble opinion for nurses is the SEIU. They are the only one with enough clout, organization, and money to do any good. I am very pro-union, but my experiences with the UFCW was not good. The distant past history of unions is mixed, filled with racial and misogynistic exclusionary practices. They definitely have cleaned up the racial end, not the female end though. It has a lot of the same male-dominated power structures, and the same ugly politics. Take the SEIU, which has withdrawn from the AFL-CIO. John Sweeney head of the latter is old guard and out of touch. Andy Stern of the SEIU is a proactive visionary, but his vision includes a global union (read his book: A Country That Works) that smacks of the horrors of NAFTA. Granted, that is what the corporations have forced us into, a global response to out-sourcing, etc. The ANA does not have support of nurses because they elected to become an elitist, divisive force years ago by pushing that all nurses have a BSN. Really, in my opinion, they are one of the main oppressive forces bringing nurses down over the years. They alienated the masses and only have 17% membership at present, mainly of academics. They also missed the boat (and control!!) on that one in that today's market trend is for AA degrees, not their highly touted BSN. Ah, I could go on. Nurses have so much potential power, but the socializing forces against women and nurses divides us!! When will we wake up? Not in my lifetime I am afraid. Wish I could be more optimistic, but after 30 years of being that troublemaker and getting my butt kicked, I'm down for the count. Sad

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