Nursing unions represented 18 percent of registered nurses and 10 percent of licensed practical nurses in 2011, according to the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees. Nurses in a hospital must vote on whether to allow a union to represent them as a collective bargaining agent, negotiating with management on salary, retirement, working conditions and patient care issues. Belonging to a union can be a plus for nurses.
Union-represented RNs earn $224 weekly more than non-union nurses, according to the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees, while LPNS earn as much as $415 more per week. Higher union wages may also raise wages for non-union nurses, whose hospitals must raise wages to attract staffers, according to a March 2009 "Center for the Health Professionals" report. Between 2000 and 2006, the average hourly wage for union RNs was $29.55, compared to $25.87 for non-union RNs. In addition to higher hourly wages, unions negotiate for better retirement benefits and seniority pay that rewards longevity.
Better Working Conditions
Unions can negotiate better working conditions for nurses. Better working conditions can mean reduced work loads, limits to the amount of mandatory overtime a nurse must work and an end to hospitals floating nurses outside their expertise, such as requiring an obstetrics nurse to work in pediatrics. Having union representation can also help nurses settle grievances fairly and can provide standard rules for firing, transferring or laying off nurses.
Improved Patient Care
Union negotiations can limit the number of patients a nurse has under her care. The more patients one nurse has to care for, the more likely she is to make mistakes that could harm her patient's health, a study published in the October 2002 issue of "JAMA" found. In this study, when nurses cared for more than four patients, the risk of death to the patient went up by 7 percent for each additional patient in her caseload. An April 2004 study published in "Industrial and Labor Review" found that patients in union hospitals were 5.5 percent less likely to die after a heart attack than patients in non-union hospitals.
Having a Voice
Union representation allows nurses to have a say in their working conditions and on issues that affect patient care. An article published in the March 2011 issue of "The Journal of Nursing Administration" found that union nurses were more likely to voice dissatisfaction with working conditions. However, union hospitals were also more likely to retain their nurses. The authors theorize that union nurses may feel more comfortable verbalizing their dissatisfaction, because they have the union behind them to address their grievances.
- AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees: Nursing: A Profile of the Profession
- Industrial and Labor Relations Review: The Effect of Registered Nurses Unions on Heart-attack Mortality
- Center for the Health Professions: The Impact of Hospital Unions on Nurse Wages in the United States
- Journal of Nursing Administration: Hospital RN Job Satisfaction and Nurse Unions
- JAMA: Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction
- Massachusetts Nursing Association: Union Rights and Benefits
- Photo Credit Hongqi Zhang/Hemera/Getty Images
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