Nurses are often reluctant to bring up the subject on unions, and the reasons are varied. Whatever the reason, we hope to answer your questions on this site. As the site is completed, we expect to present a one-stop shop for union information. So come back again. We’ll be adding and updating pages on a continuous basis.
Why would nurses and health care professionals want to join a union?
Nurses join unions for the same reasons others do. You need a way to protect your best interests. You need to gain some control over your working lives and you need security. Although financial gain does accompany union contracts, wages are rarely the catalyst when nurses organize. Nurses want and need a voice in the practice of nursing.
But I’m a professional . . .
Unions protect your safety, working conditions, and professionalism. Your license is at stake every time you are put in a compromising position, when you are floated to an unfamiliar unit, or forced to work too many hours. Having a union behind you means you can protest an unsafe assignment.
Will I have to go on strike?
The right to strike carries clout in negotiations However, it only occurs as an absolute last resort because members recognize the low probability of recovering losses resulting from a protracted strike.
First, a federal mediator is called in if your negotiations stalemate. If mediation fails and you don’t have a contract you can live with, the membership takes a strike vote. Passage requires a 2/3 majority. If members elect to strike, the law requires a thirty day notice and further meetings with the mediator. In the event no agreement is reached, a ten day notice is given. This ensures administration has time to arrange cancellation of elective procedures and transfer of patients to other hospitals.
Can I still talk to my manager? Do we need a third party?
This question comes up all the time. Even when you file a grievance, the first step is always a talk with your manager. It is only when you fail to reach a satisfactory solution that you pursue it further. There is no third party standing in the way as is often rumored. You are the union.
Do unions protect bad nurses?
No, it is not the responsibility of unions to judge whether a nurse is good or bad. Unions only ensure that proper procedures are followed. Those procedures are negotiated in your contract and voted on by you.
Most contracts provide for both written and verbal counseling. Some require further efforts at rehabilitation or support depending on the circumstances. Hospital administrators have a right and a responsibility to discharge nurses under certain conditions. However, they don’t have a right to harass employees into quitting or to fire employees without just cause.
Can only nurses represent nurses?
Well, yes and no. As a union, regardless which union or local you belong to, your participation is the union’s strength. You make the decisions that determine the direction your union will take.A union representative or negotiator can advise you and speak for you at the bargaining table but has no power to make your decisions. You or your peers will also be at the table and you will be that power.
Unions have the expertise and the resources to fight for your rights. They are trained to understand labor law. If your license is in jeopardy or you’re sued for malpractice due to understaffing and you must defend yourself in court, you wouldn’t want a nurse speaking for you. You want a lawyer with experience in your profession. The same applies to contract negotiations.
What about dues?
The dues are based on a formula, usually 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours per month. depending on your local union. However, your wages and benefits increase under union representation far more than the amount of your dues so it’s a good investment.
Will the union run the hospital?
Your managers will tell you this but unions have no interest in running hospitals or any other businesses. However, they do protect employees safety and rights on the job. They also improve the lives of working people through legislative action. UFCW doggedly fought the Washington State Legislature for five years, working to get a bill passed protecting nurses from violence on the job. Persistence paid off eventually but seeing how long and hard the battle grew, it’s obvious the bill would never have passed without the union’s support.
What do I do?
First, you contact a union suited to your needs. Nurses sometimes interview representatives from more than one union before making their decision. If you choose UFCW you will be selecting the second largest union in the country with 1.4 million members, many the result of mergers over the years. The plethora of trades and occupations in the union give it strength in it’s diversity. Nurses are represented by the Professional Division. You will be assigned a representative who not only understands the organizing process and legal ramifications, but also understands health care. He/she will guide you through an organizing campaign that takes your special needs into consideration.