Nursing and Unions – Are You Union Made?


It’s your first job nursing and you are wondering if joining the local nurses union is a good thing for you. You don’t’ know much about unions and how they work but your father was a union man and he seemed to do okay.

Unions originally came about for the protection of workers who were at the mercy of the employer. Unions were organized to protect the employee from unrealistic work schedules, unsafe work conditions, abusive management practices and proper financial compensation.

A trade or labor union is an organized group of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals in key areas. The union leadership is the bargaining entity that negotiates the labor contracts on behalf of the membership. The negotiations may include salaries, work rules, compensated time off, benefits, complaint procedures, hiring, firing and promotion of workers and anything else that is deemed to be important. The agreements negotiated are binding on the rank and file and the employer and sometimes on non-union workers.

Joining a nurses union is a way of protecting the best interest of yourself and your profession. It gives the nurses an element of control and security over the work they do and the place they do it. A union will give a nurse the opportunity to be part of a united voice and a strong entity of medical professionals.

Belonging to a nursing union has its pro and cons. The upside is the union is the central bargaining agent for the entire membership and since there is strength in numbers, may be able to negotiate for premium wages, better benefits such as health care coverage, more compensated time off, paid holidays, reimbursed continuing education programs and whatever else may be on their agenda. The down side for you is the union interest may not be your interest. Your interest may be continuing education reimbursement, clinical ladder advancement and longevity compensation but the union may decide they are irrelevant issues. They may be more interested in collecting dues rather than address the issues important to you.

An example of how union negotiations might not be beneficial is this: If nurse to patient ratio is an issue, and the union negotiates a low ratio, how is that going to work if there is a shortage of nurses and there aren’t enough qualified nurses to go around? Instead of negotiating those terms, perhaps the nurses and management should work together in the spirit of cooperation and come up with ways to encourage people to join the nursing profession and actually have the work force in place to make the low nurse to patient ratio work realistically.

A few questions to ask yourself about joining a nursing union are, does the union create an “us versus them” mentality? Does it prevent both sides of the table from working together for a common goal or keep the sides from integrating for the betterment of patient care and the medical profession in general? A union has to work for the betterment of all or it won’t work for anybody. Does a union make your job nursing more efficient or does it just create more problems? When you answer those questions, you will know if joining a nurses union is for you.


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