Quote from duwah
I worked at what was at the time the only union hospital in my state. First hand I can tell you that the rules were in writing...which made both administration and staff go thru designated channels to resolve differences. I believe it made for better working conditions to know exactly what was expected of you. It was not necessary to join the union to benefit from the contract we all worked under...but if you wanted a say in the contract you had to be a voting member.
There is an important point in this one: Legally, the benefits that a union negotiates are for all those covered by the contract, whether they choose to join or not. And the same applies to representation. The National Labor Relations Act requires that the union represent all the workers covered by the contract whether they choose to join or not. Obviously your hospital is an "open shop" - which means that joining is optional. About 20 or so states are so called "right-to-work" states (a misnomer if ever there was one - "right to work for less" is more like it). This means that in those states a union shop - where everyone is required to join or pay a fee in lieu of joining - is illegal. It's no accident that the wages in those states tend to be lower than in other states.
As to why you might want to join: The ability of your union to negotiate decent wages/benefits and working conditions is entirely dependent on the level of support it has in the facility. Open shop unions where only a few of those covered by the contract choose to join get weak contracts and poor wages. When more members get involved, the union is stronger and can accomplish more. So, whether you join or not, the contract covers you. But it may not be a very good contract without much support.
Finally anything that anyone says about all unions as a class is as accurate as anything anyone says about all women as a class, or all cars, or whatever. Different unions are as different as different people. Some are weak, ineffective and undemocratic. Others are powerful, effective and member driven. For my money, the best healthcare/nursing unions are ones that specialize in healthcare/nursing. But because those aren't available everywhere, a lot of others - teamsters, steelworkers, etc - have also done some organizing in healthcare. By and large, I don't believe they do as good a job.