I have been out of the immediate bedside nursing loop for sometime now, so my perspective on unions may either be more or less clear than those smack-dab in the middle of it. Suffice it to say that I once belonged to a union, years ago. Not a nursing union. It was the Motion Picture Projectionist’s Union in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That’s right. I was a movie projectionist. (Long story how I put myself through nursing school doing that particular job!)
Anyway, I was the one who kept the film running while all eyes were glued to the screen and the one everyone booed enthusiastically whenever anything went wrong. (Back in the 1070s with one-screen movie theatres, things went wrong all the time!) I was the token female and we had one token black. I guess that met the affirmative action quota in 1976.
There were good and bad things about belonging to a union. I had to pay dues. The union sent me where they wanted me to work. I got the jobs no one wanted, as I was not only a woman, I was the new kid on the block. The more senior guys got the more modern theatres that paid better.
The plus side was that when a conflict arose between myself and the theatre as a result of a piece of equipment breaking, the union backed me up and went to bat for me. Thus, the plus side of a union. I kept my job.
My brother-in-law is a teamster and although he is grateful for the bargaining power of his union regarding his wages and benefits, he finds it reprehensible that no matter how good or bad an employee is, they are all treated equally. There is no incentive for great performers. All are paid the same no matter what… which only keeps deadbeats in the system.
Now, as I look at the nursing shortage and the discussion of unionizing, what jumps out at me is the following. Aren’t you in the Catbird Seat as a nurse in this situation? Look at the ads begging for nurses throughout the country, not to mention just in our local area. There are two new hospitals going up in the Denver Metro area as we speak. Where are they going to get enough nurses to cover these patients when the existing hospitals don’t have enough to begin with? Look at the salaries that traveling nurses are commanding, even if they don’t travel. It seems to me that the power held in the hands of all nurses right now is incredible.
I see two opportunities here. First, for nurses to shop for the best deal going. If you’re unhappy, think outside your boxx and realize that just because you’ve worked at hospital "x" for 10 years doesn’t mean that you have to spend ten more years there! Sure, you might give up a few things – a few vacation days, or you might have to work a few night shifts, but if you got better pay, a more supportive manager or group of co-workers, or better staffing ratios, wouldn’t it be worth it? Or are you too afraid of change to even look? If you are you thinking that a union will save you from being a victim and will wave a magic wand over your life to change your situation, you may be disillusioned.
The second opportunity is for hospitals to be smarter. In an era of nursing shortages, why aren’t hospitals thinking more proactively and offering a menu for nurses to choose what is important to them? Higher hourly pay versus other benefit packages? Same pay with more vacation time? On sight day care center? More flexibility in scheduling? Better patient loads? Why are they still paying traveling and agency nurses huge salaries and spending countless dollars on overtime when they could be smarter and make more nurses happier for the same money by just being smarter to begin with? Even simpler, why don’t they just act more supportive and kind to the nurses they have?
If both parties in this issue would think outside the box and try new ideas, I would suspect both could walk away with self-esteem intact and a respect for each other’s needs and abilities. However, it does take each side taking risks, being willing to change, and communicating effectively and COOPERATIVELY to get their needs met. In addition, as with many professions, the belief that "we’ve always done it this way" seems to still prevail.
Unions might be the way things will eventually have to go if the parties involved can’t learn to work together. Might be right. Might be wrong. Just remember to think outside the boxx first to see if the answers can be more than either or.