Why Do Nurses Join Unions? Because They Can
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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