The Dark Side of Unions

  1. 1
    For years, unions have been praised for protecting workers' rights and providing a fairer system for the "little guy", often overlooking the faults in a potential union. I currently work at such a hospital. I have worked in both the union and non-union branches of this hospital, and here are some things I have noticed:

    1. Mandated shifts: In the non-union branch, nurses were not mandated to work over their scheduled shift. However, on the unit I currently work, nurses are mandated on a weekly basis (16 hour shifts). So a nurse could potentially work from 7pm-7 am, be forced to work until 11am and then turn around and come back for another 12-hour night shift.

    2. Nurse-staff ratio: Nurses at the non-union branch could not refuse a seventh patient and nurse-patient ratios were protected. Oftentimes, the busy med-surg nurse had to pick up a sixth or seventh patient. At the unit I work on, the nurses get 5 patients, but I have often seen them with a sixth patient. From other floors, I've heard med-surg nurses getting 8+ patients. What is the point in being in a union, again?

    3. Bureacracy: Everything at the non-union hospital seemed to be much less complicated. Wanted to pick up hours at another unit? Easy. Just sign up. Missing an SCD pump or a bed side commode? Borrow for another floor. At the union hospital, there is so much red tape. Picking up on other floors is tough if you aren't in the float pool. Need housekeeping to clean up a spill? You have to dial for environmental services, describe the spill, the room number, in much detail and wait until housekeeping showed up. Oh, and by the way, housekeeping can only clean up after four discharges. At the non-union hospital, housekeeping had assigned floors. We did not have to go through such a lengthy process to clean up a simple mess, nor did we have to order SCD pumps and ask the manager to buy bed side commodes.

    4. Seniority: The union branch seems to be very keen on seniority. At the non-union hospital, holidays were rotated. At the union branch, however, senior nurses got all the shifts they wanted. Forget about the young new nurse whose baby is celebrating their first Christmas. In my opinion, rotating holidays and weekends is a fairer system. No one should have to wait years and years and years to be able to get those vacation days approved.

    5. You have to pay into the union. 30 bucks a month adds up pretty quickly!

    So, don't get me wrong. Not all union hospitals and non-union hospitals are as described, neither can they all be categorized/stereotyped. These are just some of the observations I have personally noted. While I think unions are generally a good thing, they have a dark side to them as well.
    herring_RN likes this.
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  3. 22 Comments so far...

  4. 9
    Some of that doesn't sound like it's issues specific to a union, you could have a non-union hospital with the same problems (red tape, bureaucracy).
    Nurse Leigh, elkpark, Kipahni, and 6 others like this.
  5. 3
    Quote from HyperSaurus, RN
    Some of that doesn't sound like it's issues specific to a union, you could have a non-union hospital with the same problems (red tape, bureaucracy).
    This.

    I have worked at a non-union hospital that operated the same way as you described OP.
    Nurse Leigh, elkpark, and herring_RN like this.
  6. 8
    In Canada, nearly every hospital is unionized. I've never not worked in a union hospital.

    We rotate working holidays. Seniority only comes into play when layoffs loom. OT is meant to go by seniority but when it doesn't nobody complains.

    It just sounds like very poor management.
    joanna73, GM2RN, Kipahni, and 5 others like this.
  7. 12
    30 bucks a month adds up quickly?....

    I will agree that, in my experience, union-facilities do mandate more often than non-union. But it's not unheard of in non-union places. And at least, with mandation, you never run short. I think the real reason non-union facilities tend to not mandate is because they don't want to pay the overtime. It's cheaper to run short.

    What does union/non-union have to do with ordering supplies or getting a hold of housekeeping? It just sounds like poor policies, there.

    Yes, seniority is obviously King at union facilities. Sometimes this is less than ideal. But if you're new, you should get last pick on hours/shift/whatever. Everyone pays their dues. I don't feel like the fact that I'm childless means that I should accommodate my low-senior coworkers who have kids. Every union place I've worked rotates holidays/weekends. Vacation time, however, goes strictly by seniority. Which is as it should be.
    debsgreys, Nurse Leigh, elkpark, and 9 others like this.
  8. 4
    Quote from ThePrincessBride
    For years, unions have been praised for protecting workers' rights and providing a fairer system for the "little guy", often overlooking the faults in a potential union. I currently work at such a hospital. I have worked in both the union and non-union branches of this hospital, and here are some things I have noticed:

    1. Mandated shifts: In the non-union branch, nurses were not mandated to work over their scheduled shift. However, on the unit I currently work, nurses are mandated on a weekly basis (16 hour shifts). So a nurse could potentially work from 7pm-7 am, be forced to work until 11am and then turn around and come back for another 12-hour night shift.
    This seems more related to your specific experience than union vs non-union. I worked in a non-union hospital and we got mandated from time to time. And I would agree with Brandon, the non-union places don't want to pay the OT and they're not obligated to staff the floor appropriately.

    Quote from ThePrincessBride
    2. Nurse-staff ratio: Nurses at the non-union branch could not refuse a seventh patient and nurse-patient ratios were protected. Oftentimes, the busy med-surg nurse had to pick up a sixth or seventh patient. At the unit I work on, the nurses get 5 patients, but I have often seen them with a sixth patient. From other floors, I've heard med-surg nurses getting 8+ patients. What is the point in being in a union, again?
    I'm confused. You say nurses at the non-union branch could not refuse a 7th patient- so how is that good? I don't see how anything you say here speaks to union vs non-union. Ratios exist in union hospitals if they're negotiated into the union contract.

    Quote from ThePrincessBride
    3. Bureacracy: Everything at the non-union hospital seemed to be much less complicated. Wanted to pick up hours at another unit? Easy. Just sign up. Missing an SCD pump or a bed side commode? Borrow for another floor. At the union hospital, there is so much red tape. Picking up on other floors is tough if you aren't in the float pool. Need housekeeping to clean up a spill? You have to dial for environmental services, describe the spill, the room number, in much detail and wait until housekeeping showed up. Oh, and by the way, housekeeping can only clean up after four discharges. At the non-union hospital, housekeeping had assigned floors. We did not have to go through such a lengthy process to clean up a simple mess, nor did we have to order SCD pumps and ask the manager to buy bed side commodes.
    I don't see how any of this is related to the nurses' union.

    Quote from ThePrincessBride
    4. Seniority: The union branch seems to be very keen on seniority. At the non-union hospital, holidays were rotated. At the union branch, however, senior nurses got all the shifts they wanted. Forget about the young new nurse whose baby is celebrating their first Christmas. In my opinion, rotating holidays and weekends is a fairer system. No one should have to wait years and years and years to be able to get those vacation days approved.
    Unions are big on seniority, that's well known. But that IS fair. Why should the new person NOT work Christmas just because she has a baby when people who've been around for 20+ years have paid their dues?

    Quote from ThePrincessBride
    5. You have to pay into the union. 30 bucks a month adds up pretty quickly!
    I'm having a hard time believing that you feel the burn in your pockets from $30 pre-tax per month. That's way cheaper than union dues in this neck of the woods and, for your payment, you get the protection and services of the union.
    debsgreys, Nurse Leigh, joanna73, and 1 other like this.
  9. 2
    I have worked at union and non-union and while the union facility had issues, I believe that most were do with management and not the union per say. The pro's to the union was I had the best benefit package of anyplace I have ever worked, and the smallest nurse-to-pt ratio (although I heard rumors the whole hospital wasn't like that). However it wasn't the union's fault that management did not treat nurses with respect, and that the hospital had the highest turn over of nursing staff I had ever seen.

    Overall I think unions can be a good thing, but a hospital can be a good place to work without a union.
    elkpark and herring_RN like this.
  10. 2
    From what the OP described, that's how my non-union hospital ran. And that's how my union hospital is run. However, I like working at my union hospital more. I am more respected.
    elkpark and herring_RN like this.
  11. 0
    Quote from BrandonLPN
    30 bucks a month adds up quickly?....
    Yes.

    I will agree that, in my experience, union-facilities do mandate more often than non-union. But it's not unheard of in non-union places. And at least, with mandation, you never run short. I think the real reason non-union facilities tend to not mandate is because they don't want to pay the overtime. It's cheaper to run short.
    Oh, but that's the thing: you CAN run short, hence why it isn't unusual for a nurse to have more than five patients. My thing is, what is the point of paying thirty-something dollars per month when you aren't being given what you are paying for?

    What does union/non-union have to do with ordering supplies or getting a hold of housekeeping? It just sounds like poor policies, there.
    It just seems to me that unions add all of these unnecessary rules and hoops to jump through. It is ridiculous.

    Yes, seniority is obviously King at union facilities. Sometimes this is less than ideal. But if you're new, you should get last pick on hours/shift/whatever. Everyone pays their dues. I don't feel like the fact that I'm childless means that I should accommodate my low-senior coworkers who have kids. Every union place I've worked rotates holidays/weekends. Vacation time, however, goes strictly by seniority. Which is as it should be.
    Vacation time, okay. But I don't think someone should be stuck working every single major holiday every year for years just because they are at "the bottom" you know?
  12. 0
    Quote from KelRN215
    This seems more related to your specific experience than union vs non-union. I worked in a non-union hospital and we got mandated from time to time. And I would agree with Brandon, the non-union places don't want to pay the OT and they're not obligated to staff the floor appropriately.
    But at the union hospital, this has been an issue with some of the med-surg floors where nurses are getting 8+ patients (have heard even as much as eleven from former nurses who've worked on those floors...yikes!) Again, I ask: what is the point of having a union if that union isn't doing its job?


    I'm confused. You say nurses at the non-union branch could not refuse a 7th patient- so how is that good? I don't see how anything you say here speaks to union vs non-union. Ratios exist in union hospitals if they're negotiated into the union contract.
    I didn't say it was good, I was merely stating that was what was happening. Both non-union and union nurses are getting loaded with unsafe patient ratios (in my opinion).

    I don't see how any of this is related to the nurses' union.
    It has everything to do with a union.

    Unions are big on seniority, that's well known. But that IS fair. Why should the new person NOT work Christmas just because she has a baby when people who've been around for 20+ years have paid their dues?
    Where did I say that you should? I am arguing that the young nurse shouldn't be forced to work every holiday.



    I'm having a hard time believing that you feel the burn in your pockets from $30 pre-tax per month. That's way cheaper than union dues in this neck of the woods and, for your payment, you get the protection and services of the union.
    But this union hospital I'm working at isn't doing what it is supposed to do. Tell me, would you flush thirty dollars down the toilet every month for empty promises?


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