Unions vs Non Union Hospitals


I spoke to various people regarding working for union hospitals vs non-union. Some nurses have actually left union hospitals to go work in non union hospitals and even reported better work satisfaction (so they say).

Do you feel safer working in a union hospital vs non-union? How do you like collective bargaining?

I can honestly say that there are ups and downs to both but I was wondering overall what the majority nurses opinions were on the subject.

17 Answers

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juan de la cruz, MSN, RN, NP

9 Articles; 4,338 Posts

Specializes in APRN, Adult Critical Care, General Cardiology. Has 31 years experience.

As a bedside RN, I've only worked in non-union hospitals. I've been an NP since 2004 and have worked in both union and non-union NP positions in two states. I prefer union overall. I like the collective bargaining aspect where salaries are pre-determined based on seniority and that working conditions are monitored by a "watch dog" entity such as the union.

However, this system can only work best in an institution that also has a commitment to nursing excellence and higher standards of nursing practice. Take for example rewarding seniority which can be its own downfall. Nurses with lots of seniority yet put little effort to their work, don't update their skills, are "lazy", or provide poor nursing care can be at an advantage and in some instances, never get fired.

Fortunately, I don't see that in the hospital I work for where there is a balance of having a union and at the same time nursing management's commitment to high standards of nursing practice. We are a magnet facility and I know that's sometimes an overrated claim of excellence but I see our magnet badge as an affirmation of how well we live the ideals of that designation in our nursing culture.

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.

I am "on the fence" on the issue. I have only worked for 1 unionized hospital and the relationship between the management and the staff was the worst I have ever experienced. Each considered the other to be the enemy -- and that is not how I want to feel about my colleagues. But the place did offer the highest pay and benefits.

My preference is to work for a place with a great administration that treats it employees well because they are enlightened enough to understand that a staff that is well cared for will do their best work and get the best possible results. In such a place, a union is not needed. I work for a place now that is not quite that perfect, but is better than most. We don't have a union and I don't think we need one at the moment.

However ... I have worked in some places that were pretty bad ... and when the administration is really bad, then a union can be necessary to give the staff enough power to protect themselves. In such a circumstance, I would vote to unionize.

For me, it depends on what the situation is.

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.
Thats a great point. When you work for management that is fair then the union is not really necessary and seems kind of superfluous. Ive worked in a unionized hospital for many years and it seems like with every contract renewal there is drama and nit picking on various issues including benefits and such.

Yes, that drama and nit-picking seems to be a common consequence of unionization. The process of contract bargaining creates an "us against them" atmosphere that can permeate the whole culture. I would rather work in a culture that feels "We're all on the same team, even if we have different roles -- and sometimes -- different priorities."

That's how I feel about my current employer. I don't always agree with them ... and there are things I wish were different here ... but I feel that most of the leaders are good people deep down inside who are trying to do a good job under difficult circumstances. I'm willing to "meet them half-way" most of the time as we all make compromises to provide the best patient care we can and maintain a high-functioning hospital that is a decent (but not perfect) place to work.

wondern, ASN

694 Posts

Has 20 years experience.

I've only worked in non-union hospitals but many times have wondered if there was a union to help protect my work right's and pay would it be better. Most every manager I've had has been an 'us and them' situation anyhow even in so-called Magnet facilities.


6 Posts

I worked for a unionized hospital early in my career and it was a good experience...until contract renewal time, then everything got pretty tense around the hospital for a month. There was talk of a strike with nurses whispering amongst ourselves about who would or would not go on a picket line. I don't know about everyone else, but I can't afford to be off of work for a couple of weeks with no pay to picket a hospital. There was a definite schism amongst the staff around that time. That being said, the patient ratios were reasonable and the pay rate for time with hospital and time as a nurse was pretty good.

I must say that the second experience with a union was an attempt to bring a union into a non-union hospital. The experience was terrible. The NNU union out of California brought in a bunch of union organizers from various parts of the country to run a full court press on the nursing staff. Every day there were strangers stopping us in the entrance and exit to the hospital to give us flyers and try to convince us of the benefits of their union. There were catered meals offered day and night several times a week for at least a month to entice nurses to come listen to their talking points. Towards the end of that, even the pro-union nurses were tired of talking to the organizers. The union was voted in by a very slim margin, like 10 or so nurses. Then all the organizers disappeared and left one person to try and show us how to get a contract.

That was 5 years ago and we never got a contract. There were a lot of court cases, injunctions, accusations of retaliation thrown around (there was retaliation and she got 2 million bucks for it). Five years later, no contract and half of the pro union staff organizers are gone on to different hospitals.

My hospital just closed down entirely last month. Everyone fired. I attribute a lot of that to mismanagement. The inability to find another hospital group to buy us, I attribute to the fact we had a union with no contract so no one wanted to buy us due to being "problem children".

I am going back to the 'nurses vote with their feet mentality'. If the working conditions suck, the ratio's or pay suck, then its time to find a new job. Also, if you are concerned about being paid what you are worth, you probably need to change jobs every 2-3 years to get decent pay raises. Non-union hospitals will give current staff small raises (.20-.30 cents) or no raises for as long as they can do so and still keep staff. While new grad pay goes up enough to remain competitive with other hospitals, the next thing you know, you are a nurse with 5 years experience earning the same or less than a new grad.


6 Posts

Please understand this is all just in my experience and should not be taken as a blanket slam of unions. I am sure there are good unions without any issues. The way things were done at my hospital just left a very bitter taste in my mouth.

The other issue I had was the union, as a national entity, had what I consider to be a social justice warrior outlook, very liberal politically. I detest the idea that the union dues I would have paid could have been used for things that were not specific nursing issues.

wondern, ASN

694 Posts

Has 20 years experience.
... I see our magnet badge as an affirmation of how well we live the ideals of that designation in our nursing culture.

Respectfully...the ideals of that designation in our nursing culture? hmmm...:specs:

Do I/we qualify?


:nurse: Gee, I passed my boards and do my continuing education is that not good enough in my short staffed almost daily working world? :confused:

Little rant...I'm thinking 'magnet' designation needs to include things like providing sufficient staff including experienced and qualified medical staff as well as ancillary staff and sometimes providing enough of even the basic medical equipment to get the job done efficiently e.g. enough wheelchairs to help with providing basic such so-called magnet care.

That's real life~ hire more nurses, retain nurses by pay raises and providing respect for your nurses more often, both new and experienced, maybe buy some wheelchairs...

I used to try to believe in the 'magnet' then I stopped. What are the real changes? They stay in business by paying for an ideal title? The nurses and doctors all have the same license at other hospitals. Yet this 'magnet' hospital wants to act as if its superior. It's not bad to try to be good but paying for it just doesn't seem ethical.

Don't hospitals pay big bucks for this? By doing what, cutting nurses and some of the very basic necessities to get the basic job of patient care done efficiently?

If I'm wrong about buying the designation, let me know. Union vs Non-union is the question in this thread. I apologize for getting sidetracked. The magnet word just sucked me in. Let me go take off this metal armor! It's way too heavy anyhow.

Specializes in NICU. Has 40 years experience.

Some nurses have actually left union hospitals to go work in non union hospitals and even reported better work satisfaction (so they say).

Yes but some nurses have left non union hospitals to go to union hospitals and report being very happy there,too.

DannyBoy8, RN

219 Posts

Has 4 years experience.
I've only worked in non-union hospitals but many times have wondered if there was a union to help protect my work right's and pay would it be better. Most every manager I've had has been an 'us and them' situation anyhow even in so-called Magnet facilities.

Agreed. There's a line in the sand no matter where you work. It's a job, not a family. Give me the union protections and I'll cuddle when I get home.

bgxyrnf, MSN, RN

1,208 Posts

Specializes in Med-Tele; ED; ICU. Has 10 years experience.

I've worked at two non-union hospitals and at two, large unionized facilities.

I prefer the predictability of the collective bargaining contract and the ability to have some input into what I earn rather than simply being provided a take-it-or-leave-it choice. I appreciate the due-process conferred by not being an at-will employee. I appreciate knowing that I can have my job for as long as the facility remains viable and I remain capable. With a new contract in hand at one facility, I like knowing for the next 5 years what I will earn and that the terms of my employment cannot change barring a catastrophic collapse of the the organization (which, based on its profits, is unlikely).

Regarding the "us v. them," it doesn't have to be that way. For example, I was called into the management suite and asked, "Are you planning to strike?"

I replied, "It's my understanding that I do not have to answer that question. Is that correct?"

"Yes," was the answer.

"Okay," I replied. "However, it strikes me as unreasonable and somewhat disrespectful to refuse an answer. I think you *should* know who's coming and who's not so that you can adequately plan. I'm striking."

"I understand," she said. "I really appreciate you being straight with me."

A cordial and professional interaction that met the needs of both parties. That's how it can work and how it's supposed to work.

Unless I'm forced to by circumstances, I will never choose a non-union facility over one that's unionized.

Neats, BSN

682 Posts

Specializes in Case Manager/Administrator. Has 14 years experience.

I think unions can be good when they are truly needed. But with all the HR policy/procedures, with the 1800 I hate my boss reporting number, with laws/regulation there are way more measures one can take to ensure they are being treated fairly. As a manager of over 30 years experience I have hoops that I jump through and do the right thing. Even when managers do not do right there are so many laws a person could use to sue the company. If your work truly is having staff issues because of the way they are being unfair and not following regulation that is one thing but if it unions are being used for job security or pay raises then I would think carefully about joining a union. Just my input.


9 Posts

Specializes in Cardiac, Transplant. Has 6 years experience.

For me Unions have helped us fight for adequate staffing and improved pay so that we had competitive wages for the area. We are able to utilize union documentation and representation to ensure that we have proof that unsafe staffing and/or patient acuities are noted and filed for potential lawsuits. I am neither a lazy employee, nor does ALL my money go to pay for political candidates. We often do lobbying (as in nurses show up) against certain healthcare bills or ensuring that we maintain our legally mandated patient to nurse ratios.