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13.2% of Healthcare Workers Are Unionized, Study Finds

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   January 06, 2023

Based on occupation among healthcare workers, nurses have the highest level of unionization (17.5%).

The level of unionization of healthcare workers has not changed significantly over the past decade, with unionized workers gaining higher weekly earnings and better noncash benefits, a recent study found.

Unionization efforts across industries have accelerated in recent years, with the National Labor Relations Board reporting a 57% increase in union election petitions in the first half of 2022. Workers pursue unionization primarily to seek better pay, better noncash benefits, and safer work conditions.

The recent study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on data collected from more than 14,000 healthcare workers from 2009 to 2021. The data was collected from the U.S. Census Bureau-sponsored Current Population Survey and Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

The study included data collected from 6,350 technicians and support staff, 4,931 nurses, 1,072 physicians and dentists, 981 advanced practitioners, and 964 therapists.

The study features several key data points:

  • 13.2% of healthcare workers reported union membership or coverage, with no significant change in unionization level from 2009 to 2021
     
  • Compared to nonunionized healthcare workers, unionization was associated with higher weekly earnings ($1,165 versus $1,042), higher likelihood of having a pension or other retirement benefits (57.9% versus 43.4%), and having full premium-covered health insurance (22.2% versus 16.5%)
     
  • Compared to White healthcare workers, Asian, Black, and Hispanic healthcare workers were more likely to be unionized
     
  • Healthcare workers living in metropolitan areas were more likely to be unionized
     
  • Compared to nonunionized healthcare workers, unionized workers reported more weekly work hours (37.4 versus 36.3)
     
  • Older healthcare workers were significantly more likely to be unionized than younger healthcare workers: 15 to 29 years old (8.6%), 30 to 44 years old (14.0%), 45 to 59 years old (15.2%), and 60 years old and older (14.5%)
     
  • Nurses reported the highest level of unionization (17.5%)
     
  • Physicians and dentists (9.8%) and technicians and support staff (9.9%) reported the lowest level of unionization

"From 2009 through 2021, labor unionization among U.S. healthcare workers remained low. Reported union membership or coverage was significantly associated with higher weekly earnings and better noncash benefits but greater number of weekly work hours," the study's co-authors wrote.

Related: Physician Unions Prescribed as Response to Healthcare Consolidation

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical careโ€‹ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Compared to nonunionized healthcare workers, unionization was associated with higher weekly earnings ($1,165 versus $1,042).

Physicians and dentists (9.8%) and technicians and support staff (9.9%) reported the lowest level of unionization.

Compared to White healthcare workers, Asian, Black, and Hispanic healthcare workers were more likely to be unionized.

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