Why Do Nurses Join Unions? Because They Can

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , January 3, 2012

The frustrations and pressures that nurses encounter on the job can be shared with workers in other sectors from agriculture to retail to heavy industry.  Bad bosses, declining wages, and benefits, job instability and lousy hours are not unique to a particular sector.

Nurses, however, know they are in high demand. They know they are not easily replaced. They know their skills—for the most part—cannot be outsourced.  Because of all that, they know they don't have to tolerate a dysfunctional workplace. They can vote with their feet and find a new job elsewhere, or they can vote to organize.   

NNU's success suggests that when workers are given the chance to organize, usually they will. That annoys a lot of people who want to believe that unions are no longer needed in this era of enlightened management.

Instead, union successes are dismissed as some sort of trickery such as heavy-handed organizing efforts that pressure non-affiliated workers to join. How else to explain the failure of management to contain NNU's organizing efforts, other than to acknowledge the failure of management?

If NNU's only purpose were to increase dues-paying membership, as some critics suggest, that is not necessarily a grand deception on its part, and it does not explain their success. Nor is it explained by the suggestion that unions now hold some momentary advantage thanks to a temporarily pro-labor tilt on the National Labor Relations Board.

The explanation is simple. NNU is succeeding because many nurses—like many workers in many sectors—believe that nobody else in a position of power and influence is looking out for them. The only difference is that nurses are in a position to do something about it.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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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




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