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.
  2. Visit  ThePrincessBride profile page

    About ThePrincessBride, BSN, RN

    ThePrincessBride has '<1 RN, 3 tech' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Med-Surg'. From 'Somewhere'; Joined Jun '10; Posts: 1,558; Likes: 3,237.

    22 Comments so far...

  3. Visit  HyperSaurus, RN profile page
    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.
  4. Visit  LadyFree28 profile page
    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.
  5. Visit  Fiona59 profile page
    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.
  6. Visit  BrandonLPN profile page
    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.
  7. Visit  KelRN215 profile page
    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.
  8. Visit  ChristineN profile page
    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.
  9. Visit  RN1982 profile page
    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.
  10. Visit  ThePrincessBride profile page
    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?
  11. Visit  ThePrincessBride profile page
    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?
  12. Visit  LadyFree28 profile page
    11
    Quote from ThePrincessBride
    I am arguing that the young nurse shouldn't be forced to work every holiday. 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?
    Do you go to union meetings? Do you talk to your ship steward, or official about your work conditions? Do you actually know what's in your contract-because if there's a staffing ratio, the. The organization is violating the contract...

    I understand your need to vent, however, YOU have a place to at least take your concerns to and can get the ball moving for change; your contract may be coming up and the mandated staffing limit could be spelled out IN the contract; if it's not, then there's the rub...and can be a change that could happen.

    Again, most of the bureaucracy that is ran at the hospital is still not up to the union; ordering supplies is not something a union can set; the most important aspects for a union are:

    1. Fair wages: meaning; they cannot cut salary when the hospital see fit-as what is happening at Orlando health and plenty of hospitals as we speak;

    2. Working conditions: a valid point that you brought up ...a hospital cannot just change a job description or expand it without consent...like what's happening at Vanderbilt...

    Seniority is a big issue as someone said; the positives of this are seasoned nurses who are very proficient will help create generations of nurses that are competent and proficient; the hospital also has to be accepting of an environment that fosters that as well; if you put both of those elements together; it can be a wonderful place to work; unfortunately, lately there are many areas of the country where union hospitals are still creating and maintaing this culture, while the nonsense of some areas are destroying it.

    An active union will seek to have the issues that you speak of resolved; that would include YOU as well; you may have to get the ball rolling; get involved and let us know what happens.
    amoLucia, Nurse Leigh, bebbercorn, and 8 others like this.
  13. Visit  jadelpn profile page
    6
    Here's the thing, unions are only as good as their contracts. Which are usually debated and ratified yearly, 2 years, rarely 3, but it happens.

    Unions only mandate what the language is in the contract. And most I have dealt with do not regualte how many patients or patient ratios for nurses. The Joint Commission does that, state laws do that, there are many other entities that discuss patient/nurse ratios. I have never seen union contract language that states these ratios. *Not saying it doesn't exist, just not in my experience-- If your facility is staffed unsafely, if your facility has unrealistic nurse/patient ratios, then you need to report the facility. Which can be done through the State, or to the Joint Commission. Which, BTW your union rep can help you with.

    http://www.jointcommission.org/report_a_complaint.aspx

    The next time your contract is up for review, I would get involved in that. If there is language that is unrealistic, ask that your reps and bargaining team get rid of that language. Ask that a rotating holidays language be added. Ask that the vacation language be changed. They can show you other examples of other contracts so that you can get a sense of what other facilities do.

    And I have no idea what state you are in, however, most state laws have rules about mandatory overtime. And a number of union contracts talk about not working more that 16 hours in a 24 hour period. And most union contracts have language about working in a "higher classification". And I think you would find your fellow nurses may not be too keen on floating to another unit--hence why it may seem that it is a "process" to take a shift on an alternate unit.

    Here is what I like about the union. It mandates what I am paid. It madates the regular raises that I get. If there is a lay off, it mandates that I have the ability to continue to work in an alternate position per seniority. Non-union members do not get any rules about how much they are paid. So a non-union nurse may make $20 to my $25. It talks about differentials. Which again, unless one negotiates a contract for themselves non-union, the facility is under no obligation to provide.

    I would suggest you read your contract, look at the things that you don't like about it that are in the language, and become active in the negotiating process. If you find your union delegates unapproachable, then by all means go to your union rep for your area/state. The union works for you. The facility works for itself.

    I don't think the union, or for that matter self-negotiated individual contracts are the be all and end all. And you may find that the majority of nurses are liking things just the way they are (and majority rules with union negotiations). Just because you don't like something doesn't mean that there are others who don't--

    Even if you have no desire to get involved in the negotiating process, and before solely blaming the union for the complaints, know what your contract says, what it provides for, what it does for you. Most negotiating teams at contract time ask for what it is you (and other union members) want to have the team negotiate into the contract language. If this is not happening, go to the district level to be sure that you are heard. If your ratios nurse/patient are unsafe, there are unsafe staffing policies from the union--that can complain on your behalf to management, and state/credentialing bodies to bring that to.

    With all that being said, I have gotten a raise and am union. My non-union co-workers have had a wage freeze for 3 years.
    amoLucia, Nurse Leigh, elkpark, and 3 others like this.
  14. Visit  BrandonLPN profile page
    3
    I agree that having to work every holiday is ridiculous. I've never heard of such a thing. All places I've seen rotate, both union and non-union.

    As for the staffing ratio.... I was under the impression that California's powerful RN union played a key role in ensuring the 5 pt max ratio for med/surg. In general, unions bring down nurse/pt ratios.
    laborer, herring_RN, and Fiona59 like this.


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