Who is in charge of ensuring safe travel nurse working conditions? Who will stand up for the rights of nurses facing dangerous staffing ratios? Who can help guarantee nurses receive the pay they deserve?

Nursing unions are bodies created to help safeguard proper working conditions and can be instrumental to improve the careers of nurses working at understaffed facilities. With the ongoing nursing shortage that has no end in sight, union representation is needed now more than ever before in history to help improve workplace conditions.

However, just because nursing unions could be very beneficial in times like these, this doesn’t mean there’s been nearly enough established. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, show only 10.7 percent of American workers belonged to a union in 2016 and only 18 percent of registered nurses (RNs) belonged to a union. While the number of nurses who belonged to a union was substantially higher than the general population, considering the liability and risks associated with nursing, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Set aside all your pre-conceived notions about nurses unions, or just unions in general, and take a very balanced look at the pros and cons of nursing unions. If you have not already faced this decision as a travel nurse, one day you might have to decide whether or not you should join a nurses union.

What is a Nurses Union?

In order to explain what a nurses union is, it’s best to start with what a union is in general. A union is an organization composed of either one or several types of workers who have the objective to represent the collective interests of their peers who are either inside of a workplace or throughout a nation or state. Collective bargaining is the tool most often used by unions to help improve and secure better working conditions – which can include better benefits and higher wages.

A union is made up of a group of people who are committed to protecting the interests of a large group of workers. As part of their duties, a union collects information from the people they represent and take this valuable input and use it when they craft concise proposals, which they will present to the appropriate authorities. When collective bargaining and all else fails, the union has the power to organize a strike. However, strikes must be done only when needed and very meticulously, because there is a chance that an employer could simply hire a whole new set of workers to replace the ones on strike.

A nurses union does all these things and more and the group is composed of a body of nurses – who represent nurses. So what are the pros and cons of joining a nursing union? Keep reading to find out.

Pros of Joining a Nurses Union

  • Higher Wages: one of the most common reasons why nurses join a union is for better pay. Nurses unions will fight for better salaries. This scenario plays out often in positions where severe understaffing is present or when nurses are forced to work in sub-optimal conditions. There is a claim made by pro nurses union advocates that a unionized nurse could earn $200 to $400 more per week than a non-unionized nurse.
  • Improved Nurse Working Conditions: nurses unions fight for improved working conditions, which could involve a variety of factors, such as: safe nurse-to-patient ratios, better safety protocols, access to appropriate hygiene and safety equipment, and elimination of mandatory overtime. All of these factors are important to address because many studies show that poor nurse workplace conditions are driving the nursing shortage as they become pained, tired, and stressed.
  • Legal Representation: if a nurse is in breach of a protocol that requires disciplinary action, there will be a union representative sent to ensure the nurse is treated fairly. Furthermore, if a nurse is on the receiving end of mistreatment that can be verbal or physical in nature, and they have grievances in the workplace, the union is there to ensure such complaints reach the right authorities.
  • Job Security: non-union nurses subject to “at will employment” can be fired or let go at any time, for any reason – or could have their hours cut at the discretion of management. Unionized contracts typically have clauses written in to forbid the dismissal of a nurse for arbitrary reasons and prohibit hour cuts.

Cons of Joining a Nurses Union

  • Union Dues: in most cases, a nurse must pay a percentage of their earnings as “union dues” for the representation body. This is largely the reason why the majority of employees do not want to be unionized.
  • Unpaid Strikes: if a union decides to initiate a nursing strike, that requires the nurse to skip work without any pay. On rare occasions, a nurses union may have a strike fund in case this happens, but that is not the typical scenario.
  • Difficulty Firing Underperforming Employees: there is a real downside of the representation of a nurses union in this respect. If there is a bad egg or a very troublesome nurse, it may be very difficult to fire them due to their contracts.
  • Job Risks: there are risks of joining a union. There are some employers who will do everything in their power to fire a worker who is trying to organize or join a union. This is not a legal practice, but it is commonplace. It would be difficult to prove this was the employer’s intent, even when it’s quite obvious. Furthermore, if the union calls for a strike, the nurse could be permanently replaced by a nurse willing to cross the picket line.
  • Seniority-based Promotions: not always is the case, but quite often, unionized workers receive promotions based on seniority and not on job performance. This means that a hard-working nurse who has been striving for a promotion could be passed up by an underperforming employee.

You may face a time in your nursing career where you will be forced to decide whether you put your loyalty to your employer or to your fellow peers. As the nursing shortage continues and more nurses strike poor working conditions, these scenarios will only increase. Use this information to help you decide whether or not to join a union when that time comes.

Are you ready to search for a travel nursing assignment? Call our specialty nurse staffing agency today at 208-378-1338.

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Written by Miranda Booher, RN

As a twelve-year Registered Nurse with a healthy background in travel nursing and healthcare marketing, Miranda brings an interesting combination of stellar copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has a impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Uruguay, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her hanging out on the beach with her loyal husband, three crazy kids, and their beautiful German Shepherd-Husky dog.

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