Steward Health vs. Nurses Union Fight an Ugly Harbinger
It is still worth asking about the long-term effects. Regardless of what an administrative law judge determines next month on the NLRB complaint (which either way will almost assuredly prompt an appeal by the losing side), scars will remain and public doubts, quite deservedly, will linger.
After reading the charges and counter-charges issued by Steward and the union—regardless of their validity—why would anyone in Methuen, MA, seek medical care at Holy Family Hospital?
Again: Based on what the two sides are saying about one another, the public in Methuen would be within bounds to see management as greedy and vindictive, and staff as angry, reckless and incompetent.
For that matter, at a time when skilled healthcare professionals are at a premium, why would any physician, nurse, or administrator take a job at Holy Family knowing they would be entering a volatile environment that is hardly conducive to healing or congeniality?
Unfortunately, the acrimony at Holy Family may be a harbinger. As the fight for diminishing healthcare dollars intensifies in the coming years, it would not be surprising to expect more labor strife in hospitals across the nation.
With less money, management will be less inclined, or able, to negotiate as margins shrink. Staffing and scheduling issues, compensation cuts, and quality of care challenges will create resentment and fear in the healthcare workforce, making the call to organize all the more appealing. Sophisticated, battle-tested healthcare labor unions such as the NNU will tap into that worker angst and enjoy even more success.
It is not hard to foresee the healthcare landscape broken into entrenched and polarized camps, with labor and management snarling at one another across a no-man's land. Caught in the middle will be the patients hoping to dodge the crossfire.
John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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