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Why Do Nurses Join Unions? Because They Can

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 3, 2012

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.

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2 comments on "Why Do Nurses Join Unions? Because They Can"


Dan (1/6/2012 at 12:18 PM)
I'm old (experienced), and have worked management, IT, etc, in every role one can imagine. I've seen money tossed down the drain in earnest pursuit of quality despite my repeatedly despite my Cassandra predictions of failure. Restructuring "experts" refuse to use the simple, but difficult route of simplifying structures of care by increasing the ratio of nurses to patients, decreasing the number of hours required of nurses to decrease stress, or increasing nursing involvement in financial management decisions. When administrative overhead decreases, and nursing investment increases, my skepticism will finally fade away.

Kevin Reilly (1/3/2012 at 8:23 PM)
John, I enjoyed reading your opinion piece and totally agree with your analysis. I was employed by the California Nurses Association during the explosive growth years of 1996-2002. Today, it is even easier to organize nurses due to the glaring conflicts of corporate medicine and its control of our health facilities. Whether by outright ownership or contractual controls, corporate health care puts nurses at odds with patient needs and nurses know it. It's easy to choose sides when the picture is so clear. Kevin Reilly, MSN, RN Twitter@ReillyRN510 Skype: kevin.reilly64