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Labor Unions for Nurses: Benefits & Factors

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

As a result of changes in healthcare, nurses have begun to see the benefits of joining labor unions to protect the interests of their patients and themselves. This lesson is about labor unions for nurses and the factors and benefits involved.

A Nurse's Day

''Maria, you don't look so hot. Have you had a break yet today?''

''Just enough time to wolf down a banana, Suzy. I'm exhausted. They made me stay over last night to pull a double shift, so I did both days and afternoons and didn't get home 'til after midnight. This mandatory overtime is killing me.''

''Yeah, I know what you mean. Last week, the clinical manager told us we'd have to punch out and keep on charting till we're done if we can't finish our charts on the shift, so we won't even be paid for it. Now that really makes me mad!''

Conversations like these can be all too common in the healthcare industry, and they're also part of why nurses need labor unions.

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  • 0:03 A Nurse's Day
  • 0:45 Why Nurses Need Labor Unions
  • 2:24 Benefits of a Nursing Union
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Why Nurses Need Labor Unions

During the past years, nursing has often been considered a ''calling.'' The image of the dedicated nurse in a white cap and starched dress at the patient's bedside late at night is still in the minds of many. But during recent decades, the management of healthcare facilities has been taken over by large corporations and consulting firms. These managers, with their business degrees, lack of medical training, and detachment from the reality of the healthcare environment, as well as profit motives, have redesigned the care environment with their own goals in mind. Hospitals and their staffs have been restructured, downsized - sometimes brutally. As a result, much of the trust that nurses once had in their administrative leadership has been lost.

As stated in an executive summary in The National Academies Press of the report, ''To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System'' from the Institute of Medicine, ''This loss of trust stems in part from a perception that initiatives in patient care and nursing work redesign have emphasized efficiency over patient safety.'' And, since data on poor patient outcomes and deaths in hospitals during recent decades correlates with this loss of trust, it is clear that nurses need a strong voice to advocate for their patients, and for themselves. This voice can come from the use of collective bargaining or the creation of labor unions for nurses. Collective bargaining is the negotiation between labor and management to establish wages, working conditions, hours, and other relevant issues.

Benefits of a Nursing Union

Several benefits of union membership for nurses are outlined in an article on the Health Research Funding website, May 15, 2015. These are:

The union provides a voice against the health care provider's management. This is very relevant today as nearly all healthcare facilities are now run by people with business training who have never cared for a sick person in their lives.

Management is often interested in the facility's budget and may try to staff the units by changing shift hours, by using mandatory overtime, or by using nurses from outside agencies, whom they may pay more than regular staff. They may cut the basic staffing matrices that designate how many patients one nurse may care for. Without a union, there isn't much that the nurses can do. With a union, they can document these issues and file Unfair Labor Practices and grievances, and they can report the issues to the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, which can then investigate the matter and can rule against the management. It can even collect fines. Fines mean money spent, which quickly gets the attention of a profit-driven management.

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