Input re disbanding a union and contracting

Nurses Activism


OK, this is the situation, I would like to get rid of the union in my workplace. It is about a 50/50 split as to who would want to keep it, and who wants it gone. The nurses w more seniority want to keep it, they also point out that my agency was very slow to give in to a raise in the last contract negotiations, and they didn't want to give a raise for three years, not until it came to a strike threat did they agree to a small raise yearly.

My question is, as it stands now, if an employee works for a union, is it still an at-will situation? In other words, why can't we as nurses get together and negotiate our own contact w the agency? Does anyone have any info about how this could be done, or if it can be done? Why do we need the Teamsters to do what we can do ourselves? And we can keep the money in our own paychecks??

Please forgive me for sounding stupid, I am politically ignorant in all matters, not just nursing. Any ideas you have would be great.


2,709 Posts

you CAN do that but as just a group of non-union employees you can only do it if the employer ALLOWS you to. As a union of nurses, he is legally obligated to negotiate a contract with you.

As a group of non-union nurses, that law does not apply. Thats the big difference.

As just a group, you would have no legal power to get the employer to negotiate a contract fairly or negotiate any contract at all & will have no guarantees for a voice in setting the terms of your employment or working conditions. As a group, unless the employer, out of the goodness of his heart, decides to ALLOW you have to any input into your jobs, he makes all the decisions for you. If you are unionized employees, you have the legally guaranteed right to have a voice in decisions that affect your job.

Thats another big difference.

Once you are just a group of employees, your employer doesnt have to give you any contract at all & you cant force him to. As a group, you get the terms of employment that the employer wants to give you. He is under no obligation by law to work it out fairly with you or even to negotiate with the group at all. He can just turn around & say this is what the job is - take it or leave it. If he does ALLOW negotiations with the group, he still has the upper hand, all the control, can still say no to any of your contract terms, limit the sessions, limit the terms, and end negotiations wherever he wants and thats the end of your negotiating - he calls the shots - can still say take it or leave it & you have no legal leg to stand on to get what you need. If you are a union, he has no such control.

As a union, you have the legal right to determine your contract & have the laws to force the employer to negotiate with you. As a group you dont & he's in charge. But as a union, you legally have an equal say over your contract & can take him to court if he negotiates unfairly or wont negotiate at all. As a group, you dont have that power.

A union of nurses has certain rights & the employer has certain obligations that neither of you would have if you were just a group. There are certain protections & laws that pertain to you & the employer when you are a union that dont exist for you when you are just a group of employees & that leaves you at the mercy of the employer.

It might not make a difference as long as you have a fair, understanding, & generous employer, but once she leaves or some consultant makes a recommendation to make changes, the group can do nothing about it. An at-will employee has to just take it or look for another job. This cant happen to a union of nurses. They are not at the mercy of the employers whim.

But a group of employees has no say, ends up just having to take the chance that the employer will do the right thing by them & then hopes that he doesnt change his mind. For this reason alone, I will never work in a non-union facility again.

What do you do if, after you are no longer a union, your employer decides that he doesnt want to negotiate a contract at all & he just hands you his one & only offer which you find to be lacking or unacceptable? If you are not a union, he can do this. Your options: Sign on the dotted line or find another job. If you were a union and he did this, it would be illegal, he would be fined & ordered to negotiate a fair contract.

Instead of taking a chance in giving up your rights to a voice in your conditions of employment, & leaving yourselves all in the employers hands, hoping that he will be fair but having no guarantees & being at his mercy, maybe what you need is a professional RN union that is more responsive & better understands the RNs professional issues & needs.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

hoolahan, ASN, RN

1 Article; 1,721 Posts

Specializes in Home Health.

WOW!! jt, thank you for your thorough and wonderful explanation. You even have me thinking the union is a good thing after all, and that has been impossible for anyone else to do! :)

When you put it like that, maybe we would be better off changing unions, or just haggling out our contract until it is more flexible.

Let me pick your brain for a moment on a more personal issue w the union. They will not allow FT'ers to waive health benefits, even when I offered to keep paying for single coverage and not take the plan, they refused to allow me to waive coverage which thoroughly P'd me off! PT'ers are allowed to waive coverage. Doesn't something about that seem illegal? To force a person to take a health coverage when they don't want it? There are a lot of people angry about multiple health coverage issues right now.

Anyway, that said, I will peruse the forum here for suggestions of nurse-run unions, but if you know of any in NJ, off the top of your heard, feel free to post it here. Or anyone else working with a good RN union and can give some personal endorsements, I would be interested to hear it.

Thanks again jt!!!!! :)


2,709 Posts

The RIGHT union for you IS a good thing. Whats the point in being part of an ineffective union that is not representing you the way you want to be represented? Isnt that just money thrown away? And whats the point in just leaving yourself at the mercy of the employer - with no say in anything about your jobs unless he ALLOWS you to have one - for as long as he allows it? Isnt that just taking 10 steps backward? It would be great if we could just do it the way you wanted to but the thing is there is no guarantee that they will LET us & there is nothing to force them to do so in that case. We need the law behind us to guarantee that we are in the decision making in our jobs. You only get those laws if you a legally recognized union. So what choice is there?

The way I see it is the only thing to do to make sure you have those guarantees for a voice in your workplace is to unionize & to unionize with the right union that will best represent you & understand your professional needs & concerns.

What other choice is there if the union you have isnt responisve to your concerns? To me, throwing away my rights to a voice in my workplace & in my contract is not an option. Thats why in 1984, the RNs in my hospital decertified 1199/SEIU but instead of just getting out of that union which was not responsive to us at the time, we turned right around & voted into NYSNA.

I dont remember ever coming across a situation where I work that a FT RN didnt want the health benefits. Probably because for us it would make no difference since FT RNs in NYSNA do not pay for their health benefits. So if we arent paying for them anyway, why argue to NOT have them? So I dont think this has never come up.

I dont know about your union, the terms or your contract, the employment condition, etc so I cant answer why you cant waive the benefit & have the money you pay for it in your check instead. Maybe the facility's benefits director or the DIRECTOR of the teamsters in your region can explain it.

As far as RN unions in our area, Im partial to the RN-run New York State Nurses Assoc. Its also the labor union for NJ RNs thru a shared services agreement with the New Jersey Nurses Assoc because NJNA itself is not a labor union & doesnt provide the service. NJ RNs who are unionized with NYSNA pay one membership dues rate but have membership in both the NJNA & the NYSNA - with NYSNA being their union at work. Those same dues (1.6% of the lowest base salary in the region) also provide for membership in the UAN, the ANA, & the AFL-CIO. NYSNA has an office in Union, NJ & is in the midst of negotiating a first contract for RNs at Shore Memorial Hospital near Atlantic City.

There are other organizations that represent nurses in NJ too. One that comes to mind is the healthcare branch of the teachers union.

That said, since you are already unionized by an AFL-CIO affiliated organization, if you wanted to unionize with any other AFL-CIO affiliated organization, as NYSNA & the teachers union both are, you would have to decertify from your union, be non-union for a year, and then can vote in the other union you chose, because AFL-CIO affiliated organizations cannot infringe on other AFL-CIO affiliated organziations. And anything can happen in that yr that you have to be non-union. By the end of the yr, people may have lost interest, left the facility, or the administration may be trying everything in its power to stop you from re-unionizing & people may become intimidated or whatever.

Thats the drawback to changing unions. But it can be done. We did it in 1984 at my hospital.

Your other alternative is to contact the top regional offices of your union, let them know you are unhappy with your local & why, & demand better representation. Mention the possiblity of decertification if they dont get on the ball & they will know you are serious.

Home Health Columnist / Guide


11 Articles; 18,072 Posts

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion.

Hope you saw the FLA. update I posted on Teamsters thread.

JT laid out well the benefit of a union im protecting your rights and mandating employer to bargain with you as rights upheld under federal laws. Advice to consider I'm suggesting is based on ANA participation in collective barganing inservices, not a member of a union.

Think it would behoove you to speak to Jersey Shore Nurses and check out the websites of other unions. What content on the web do they have about NURSING issues?

I can put you in touch with an RN LNC who also is labor rep for NYSNA and another labor rep/organizer for PASNAP-- PA nurse run union representing 11 PA hospitals nurses ~ 5,000 members and affiliate of CNA/new AARN-don't know if they're ready to cross into another state yet but their office is only 1 hr from NJ.

What the nurses need to decide is WHAT ARE YOUR NEEDS??? What is NOT being addressed with current union?

What benefits/case load concerns do you have? Retenion/retirement benefits? After three years employment, my agency will contribute .50 cents for every dollar I save in retirement account via payroll deduction, up to 6% of salary or $6,000 dollars/year---we can choose several investment funds thru Vanguard fund: ALL AT PRE-TAX dollars!

Do you get CPR paid for, tuition reimbursement? What about seniority rights, how are callouts handled, staff mandated to work??? Think about ALL of these issues.

Our agency has mixture of 8 hr and 12hr WE shifts. 12hr RN's see 10 patients, with 1 admit = 2pts and higher pay rate. This is a way for all the weekday overflow and Friday crowd to be seen. We have 6 RNs doing this = 60 visits they cover. Would this be something to consider/ union allow it?

Ask proposed unions what they have done in other facilities along these lines---speak with nurses covered by these groups on how responsive union is in settling issues and length of time to get a contract signed. The labor organizer assigned to your union, how many OTHER groups will they we assigned to???

My health system added for 2002 benefit of medical saving account with clear understanding that what you put in yearly, needs to be used for expenses by end of year or you LOOSE the money. So conservatively, I set up account for only $500/yr even though I needed dental work and no dental insurance thru husband. Well, $1,400 spent on ONE front tooth! Even though I'm only paying in $20 biweekly, the savings account will reimburse me the $500 NOW.

This medical account can be used for prescription co-pays, contact solution, gym membership with DR RX, glasses etc. I only getting $6 less weekly in my pay BECAUSE it comes out of income BEFORE taxes assessed. Kicking myself that I didn't set up higher amount now. This would be a great benefit for a family to have---somrthing you guys might want to consider.

Put on your thinking caps, write it down in black 'n white: current union, problems, wants/ needs/desires/concerns group--- do same thing. Good luck in making your work setting a possitive one!

Edited Saturday:

Remember YOU are the union.

The strength of membership and participation in meetings and activites are what makes it a success or failure..... same as any professional association: ANA, AACN, ENA, JCAHO or AMA.

hoolahan, ASN, RN

1 Article; 1,721 Posts

Specializes in Home Health.

Thanks again guys!!! I know the idea of being w/o a union for a year will be scary for many in our agency, and I don't want to lose nurses b/c of this. Do you think if I asked a NYSNA rep to come and speak to us about the process and the diff's they would? NO we don't get paid for CPR, or even any inservices!!

I will start a survey for all union nurses to respond to, and solidify some of our ideas. Negotiations start this year for a new contract. Does that make a diff? If we don't re-sign, can we just start a new union at the end of that time, or must we still wait a year. They told me negotiations first started in spring, now I hear fall, that is too late for April contract 2003 in my opinion, and I think we need to talk about it now!

And YES Karen, I saw that thread, which is what planted the seed.

I need to think about this more on my days off. I am wiped. Had to really rough new cases todays, 3 hours first visit, then an even visit for another hour. All my visits today were my most challenging difficult pt's. And I have a 7:30 am insulin to observe tomorrow. I am tired. It's 10:30 and I just finished my charting (did take a 2 hour break to eat and veg)


2,709 Posts

you can always call & ask. there are some things one AFL-CIO organization cant do while you are still with another AFL-CIO organization - like conduct a raid on another unions members - so I dont know if they can meet with you per se, or if that might be considered raiding, but they can answer the phone.

They have an office in Union, NJ but you might want to call the NY office & ask to speak to one of the directors for info.

I agree with Karen to make a list of what you feel your union is lacking in represention: professional concerns?, educational needs?, compensation? And discussing this with them to see if they realize there is a problem & can be more effective. The contract with the employer is YOUR contract - not the union office's. It should reflect YOUR needs. YOU should be controlling what goes into it.

Is it possible for the RNs to be more assertive & aggressive in making that happen? Is there a way to make your union representatives better meet your needs? Is it that the union leaders arent responsive or is it that the nurses as the union are not getting involved in designing their contract?

Have you told the union reps what your professional needs are & demanded that they be addressed ie: compensation for time spent on paperwork you have to complete at home (aka overtime), preceptorship, specialty certifications, education & experience? Reimbursement for tuititions, CPR/ACLS instruction, continuing education seminars, & paid days off to attend them? Transportation allowances? Issues like taking over unfamiliar assignments without adequate orientation, security escorts for visits in high-crime areas, etc?

The poll of what the nurses want in the new contract is a good idea. We do that before a few months before starting new negotiations and it guides the negotiating team. Its the nurses answers on the polls & in membership meetings that decide what goes into the contract. Your situation may all just be something that can be fixed with ongoing communication & action between the RNs & the union.

If not, & all possibilities have been exhausted to no avail, then maybe its time for a new union. If thats the case, you cant just not re-negotiate the existing contract. That would be an unfair labor practice on your part & your employer can take action against you with the NLRB. Same as you could do to him if he refused to negotiate.

To decertify from your union, you would need a % of members signatures on decertification petitions & submit them to your union. Sometimes the union will just accept the petitions and bow out. Sometimes they dont & a vote by the members must be taken. These are federal labor laws you have to follow.

I think your first step should be talking to your union leaders & seeing if all the dissatisfaction cant be resolved.

hoolahan, ASN, RN

1 Article; 1,721 Posts

Specializes in Home Health.

Good ideas jt. I will get started. You've given me a lot to think about.

Home Health Columnist / Guide


11 Articles; 18,072 Posts

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion.

From ANA's Nursing World:

Found info on collective barganing to use as reference.

Workplace Rights, Organizing and Collective Barganing


2,709 Posts

hey hot lips! I got some info for you on another alternative......

First let me repeat that it might help to have the RNs more involved in communicating with the leaders of your union, have the RNs express their concerns, make a list of their needs, & gauge the unions response. Hopefully that will help to resolve the problem. IF on the off chance that it doesnt, and the nurses truly feel that they need a different union, there is an alternative to being left non-union for a yr:

The nurses would still have to decertify from their current union but would establish themselves as their own "union". Petitions to the labor board & your employer with 2/3rds the RNs signatures showing your intent to leave the current union but continue to be unionized under your own name will protect you from having to be at risk as non-union workers with no union laws behind you.

You make up the name of your union, file it with the NLRB, have a 2/3rds majority vote to bring it in, & your employer is still bound by the same laws that the other union was covered by. You are out of the first union but you are still unionized.

It can be just a union on paper or you can take the ball & run with it, its your choice because after you are out of that first union and are your own independent organization, you can call in any other you want & vote to consolidate with it.... even if its another AFL-CIO organization..... unless being your own small union works for you... then you might decide not to consolidate with any other union at all.

If you decide not to consolidate & to remain an independent union, this would be a way for you to do what you wanted to do in the first post here & STILL have the union laws to back you up. But it takes money & work to run a union, and if you are not going to consolidate with a larger one, you will need the people who are interested in handling all that goes with running the business end of your organization. If you do vote to consolidate, you wont have that headache.

By consolidating your independent union with an expert RN union, except for your initial independent set up which the NLRB can help you with, you wont have to do all the legal affairs union mumbo-jumbo stuff yourself. Also, theres power in numbers as well as resources & expertise with the larger RN labor unions.

While you are with the first AFL-CIO union, another AFL-CIO union cant talk to you, but once you decertify from it & vote to be an independent organization, you can call your choice of RN unions, interview them, compare them, decide on the one that will best represent you as you want to be represented, & they can then help you consolidate with them.

Anyway, its a little bit of work (mostly paper work) to decertify and set up as an independent union - even if just on paper & for a short temporary period until you vote to consolidate with an RN union - but its something to think about rather than just decertifying from the present union & being left at the mercy of the employer as non-union workers.

hoolahan, ASN, RN

1 Article; 1,721 Posts

Specializes in Home Health.

God Bless you jt!!! I will be letteing everyone know. I had been "accidentally" left out of the union loop, meetings on my days off, and notices for them not given to me in a timely fashion, yet everyone else knew about them. Curious, no? Two more resignations today, we may just not have anyopne to join a union!! I will get right on it!!

micro, RN

1,173 Posts

and as I get more politicially active in this nursing circle we weave......

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