Can a Pro-Union Nurse-Manager Effect Change in a Non-Union Environment?


  • Career Columnist / Author
    Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development. Has 30 years experience.

Hi Nurse Beth!

I'm seriously considering applying for a nurse manager position at my place of employment. However, I have some concerns. There has recently been some effort to unionize the nurses (I'm in California) and the hospital has always been a non-union facility and apparently wants to keep it that way.

One of my concerns - I'm kind of pro-union though I've never worked for a union facility. The union appears to offer some job protections and wage improvements that I think will be of benefit to not only the nurses that work at my facility but also improve patient care outcomes. However, the hospital is attempting to deter the nurses from forming a union by holding multiple meetings and making offers to make changes that may or may not come to fruition or last.

My desire to get into nursing management follows along the lines of wanting to make improvements to not only the work environment but improve educational opportunities for our nurses. It appears, from what I've experienced, that the nurse managers at my facility do not have much if any say in the wages that their employees make. So, as a nurse manager, I'm not sure I'd be able to have much impact on wages for my staff.

In your experience, can a pro-union nurse obtain a nurse manager job without causing a rift between anti-union upper management that I'd be working with and for and the staff who could really use some of the benefits that a union offers?

Dear Pro Union,

That's a great question.Union environments can pit nurses and administration against each other.

As a nurse manager in a union facility, you are expected to be pro-administration, which often is anti-union. You would not be a voting member of the union as a salaried, supervisory employee.

As far as wages, nurse managers at most facilities have little or no say in nurses' overall wages, union or not. Typically Human Resources conducts surveys to assure the pay is competitive with other like facilities and jobs.

That said, as a manager, you can make a tremendous difference. You influence patient care by upholding standards and supporting professional nursing practice. You listen to nurses and help with their concerns. You advocate for the right supplies and workflows that make sense. You speak up when processes are proposed that do not help patients or nursing practice. You encourage, coach, hold staff accountable, and build the team.

Nurses need good nurse managers who want to be managers for good reasons, like you.

You asked about my experience- I was a nurse manager in a union environment for many years. I believe the nurses voted in a union because of a perceived lack of communication and respect for nurses by the organization. The nurses felt their voice was not heard, and so they chose collective bargaining and union representation.

It was both rewarding and challenging as a manager. We went through long, drawn-out contract negotiations and a strike where once I had to drive through a picket line where a close friend of mine was picketing. It felt like the Civil War- family against family. It was a hard time. You do not cause a rift”, though, by being a manager. The rift is already there. You work within the constraints and realize that the connections you make and the principles you uphold and promote are what's important.

I am pro-nurse more than I am pro-union or pro-administration. Unions are not necessarily the answer, but that's another posting.

I hope you will follow your calling and let us know how it goes.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth


Specializes in Critical Care. Has 3 years experience.

Just IMO, if you've never worked in a union facility, you can't fairly call yourself "pro-union." I thought I was pro-union too, until I left my non-union job and took one at a unionized hospital. Our union does nothing but take nurses' money and maintain job protection for nurses who should have been let go years ago (ya know, the ones who are dangerously lazy and have had pt abandonment complaints filed enough times). Our union voted to CUT our pay, which is already no different than at a non-union hospital; my health insurance costs the same but has more restrictions on what is covered; we have no mandated nurse:pt ratios; we don't get any bonuses or pension; the work environment is toxic - nurses were treated better, and with more respect, at my non-union gig. I could go on all day. I'm not in the union, but some of my coworkers who have been for decades are now leaving it! You can use the threat of unionizing indefinitely if admins are willing to negotiate with you to prevent it...take advantage of that as long as they're willing to work with you.


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I HOPE NOT!! I wish nurses had the right to choose to belong to a union or not, but we are forced to join in most states. In Oregon, the nursing union gives hundreds of $thousands$ to their favorite Democrats running for office. I didn't even know this was happening for a long time. I asked the union how they made their political choices? 30 district reps get together and make their choice, and then your hard-earned money goes into some political campaign pocket. They say you can sign a form to "opt out" so your money won't go there, but they won't prove to you it doesn't, when you ask. Just another example of how a once free nation, is no longer actually free.