Friday, December 12, 2008

Is There a Right Union for RNs?

Change of Shift is up over at Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer and one of the interesting links is over to ER Murse's blog, where he opines on what union is right for RNs.  I hate unions, which makes me fall into the group that he considers "hopelessly naive".

If there must be a union then I agree with him that RNs should be in a separate union, but I hate unions.  Did I mention that I don't like being in a union?  Because I don't.

Anyway, in an effort to get mileage out of my comment on the blog, here it is, reproduced in it's unabridged beauty for your visual degustation: I am at, most hospitals are unionized and you really don't have a choice about which union because if you want to work for that hospital, you have to work for that hospital's union.

One hospital in my system is a non-union hospital. Their salary is a tiny bit higher as a base, but when you consider that they do not pay union dues, the salary jumps up a lot more. As far as I can tell there are no significant differences between the way their nurses are treated and the way that I am treated, with the exception of the fact that at their hospital nurses are treated as individuals and when individual circumstances come up they don't have to pretend that everybody is exactly the same with no exceptions.

My wife and I are considering the possibility of a move in the coming months and among the places we are looking is Arizona. In doing research, Arizona has no unions at all. But based on information I have gathered so far, salary is higher, benefits are better, staffing ratios are similar or better, and from the anecdotal evidence that I have collected in talking with a few nurses, general satisfaction is very high. Another hospital system about 100 miles away from me is also non-union, and the salary is significantly higher, and again, in talking with several RNs from that system, they are delighted to be non-union.

So I guess you can tell where I fall on your scale. Yep, I'm the hopelessly naive third group. I recognize that unions can do some important things, but I think that every major union I have run into (I have been a member of SEIU and my state branch of the ANA) has become bloated and impersonal and has lost focus of actually caring for the individual in favor of seeming to care for the individual. What they actually do is extract large sums of money from my paycheck and dictate to me what I can and can't do. They throw massive weight behind political causes that I do not agree with, though they use me as ammunition in doing so. They try to "protect" thier workers in such a way that my individuality is completely wiped out, and in such a way that I cannot be rewarded for good work or punished for sloppy or lazy work.

If I could be part of a very small local union consisting of a few dozen or maybe even a few hundred employees where I actually had access to leadership, and where individuals could still be individuals and where they weren't encouraging me to strike over a 1 percent raise so that they can get more money for their political ambitions, then maybe I would be interested.

But forcing me to be in a union, extorting me for union dues, misrepresenting me to the public, and not advocating for my individual needs makes me resent being a union member.

And yes, I know that I can join the union blah blah committee and get into nasty arguments and long and unneccessary unpaid meetings.  Maybe one day I will get frustrated enough to do that just to spite some union officials.  Unfortunately, unions don't generally appreciate the "loyal opposition" so much.  Don't believe me?  Go check out the Employee Free Choice Act.


ERMurse said...

Thanks for the comment and link from your site. I was one of the hopelessly naive until as a unrepresented employee RN I had a very adverse action taken agains me for whistleblowing activities. Not having a union and following the grievience procedure of the very large facility with deep pockets put me at a disatvantage and forced me into a settlement that I regret but could not avoid. Hiring ones own lawyer even when you got a great case cost 200-300 per hour. The employeer knows this and can simply delay and wait you out. You never get to the facts of the case before a netural arbitrator before your broke. You need a deep pocket advocate to defend your basic rights. A big employeer can do the same to a small employee association, bankrupt it with one case. Unions in a sense are like lawyers, everyone hates them until you need one.

As far as Arizona being non-union you might want to check that again. They are several union facilities, many of the public ones, and CNA has an agressive organizing effort there. See the link.

I also dont like the left politics but choose to ignore it except when it applies to my profession. For RN's, its the left politics that bring about protections like Nursing Ratio's. The ratios have not only made it possible for me to keep doing my job safely, they have put an upward pressure on wages so I dont nned to be a manager to make a decent living.

Braden said...

I wish that I could get some of the good of the union without having to take all of the crap baggage that comes along with it.

I agree that if I had to pick the best thing that unions have done, it is to regulate staffing ratios.

What would be great is if nurses could choose which union they would like to join and carry that membership wherever they go. Then you would still have the power of representation, but you could choose to be represented by whichever agency best *gasp* represented you. So I may not actually be in the same union as the nurse working at my side, but we are both where we feel comfortable. Perhaps she wants to be in a union that gives money and support to stupid political candidates like John Kerry, and that's fine, because I like my union which is more stripped down but is still able to flex some muscles in the case of management abusing power.

The thing is that nurses are in such high demand, there is less of a need than, say, mechanics or auto workers, who are more replacable. If my management is not treating me the way I want to be treated, I can call St. Elsewhere Community Hospital down the street and the chances are they they have a position that would suit me just fine. Unions have historically helped nurses a great deal, but with the growing power of an individual nurse to say "I'll go work over there" because of an increasing shortage of nurses, the unions become less and less relevant as far as securing good working conditions. Free market principles will help keep working conditions good much in the same way that having Walmart move into the area keeps prices lower at other stores.

Anyway, as I think out loud (old keyboard, you know...) here, I realize that my two biggest complaints are the lack of choice/forcing me to join and the excessive dues and more so what those dues are spent on.

I would not mind so much if I could have the choice to join a union that I agreed with and that didn't try to rape my paycheck every two weeks.

Thanks for the good discussion. It is great to be able to disagree on an issue and still discuss it without flinging invective all over the place (because we all know how hard invective is to get out of clothes and hair).

Curdie said...

So you are in a union but still have to pay thousands out of pocket for the delivery of your baby? I thought the main perk of unions was the awesome medical insurance.

Anonymous said...

Our union is 100% useless. Their negotiations make our benefits worse, and the union leaders use the dues to go to "seminars" that are conveniently located in awesome vacation destinations. I was in the union for about a month, then I realized I was getting screwed and told them to remove me from their rolls. I haven't paid dues since...they're absolutely useless.

Braden said...

curdiemer: tell me about it.

keepbreathing: I tried not paying dues. They sent me threatening letters about how they were going to have me fired.