Deciding to be a part of a union work environment is a personal choice. Union nurses have been around for decades, and have worked to improve working conditions for nurses as well as advocate for safe patient care. They have also lobbied for political action involving health care.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of working in a union environment. One advantage is job security. Nurses account for a large chunk of an organization's budget. Therefore, when looking to make economic choices, nurses may be laid off by the company. Union nurses may have contractual clauses surrounding discipline and layoffs which makes unexpected termination obsolete. Moreover, employees can have a union representative assist and advocate for them when facing discipline or termination. Job security also applies to changing jobs within an organization. Union nurses can employ seniority rights to be considered for positions; the more senior the nurse, the better the chance at landing a job opportunity. Also, many nursing labor contracts have layoff or termination language which sets rules on those events – a benefit during hard economic times or if an organization is looking to make cuts.

RELATED: Nurse Manager Leadership Recommendations for Staff Engagement & Success

Another advantage is benefits. Many union nurses enjoy benefits that have been negotiated between the employer and nurses. Medical and dental coverage, vacation and sick pay, and education leave are examples of benefits union nurses enjoy. Not only are they just covered, but unions help negotiate an improvement in benefit coverage throughout the life of the contract.

Another benefit of being a union nurse is fair wages. Compensation is negotiated with the employer and is reviewed after contracts expire and can be based on current cost-of-living in specific areas. Wages, as well as bonuses, are often negotiated in labor contracts.

Unionized nurses also have the advantage of "strength in numbers." When patient care or work conditions need change, having a group with a common goal can lead to more success. The term "solidarity" is commonly used by unionized nurses as they work together to create change regarding patient care issues as well as work conditions.

RELATED: Are Nursing Licenses Valid When Traveling & Working in Other States?

Working environments pose disadvantages for some. For example, some nurses work in an area where the goals of the union do not apply to them. Because of this reason, some nurses may not wish to pay union dues or picket if a strike is called.

Bargained wages can also be considered as a disadvantage for some nurses. When wages are fixed in a contract, there is no incentive to work harder or perform higher based on merit, as it is not recognized when it comes to pay. In other words, one nurse may be racing around during a shift while another isn't necessarily going above and beyond, but they get paid the same wage. This can lead to discord among nursing staff.

Another disadvantage is when nurses seek changes to their work schedule, time off, or other issue related to working conditions. Nurses in a union environment can expect that every facet of their work conditions will be run through the union. While this idea is advantageous in many ways, it can result in a loss for some. For example, if a nurse wishes to reduce hours or change shift times, the employer may need to run it by the union and officially post a job opening which opens it up to other nurses bidding on the new position. If a nurse with more seniority wants the position, it bumps the original nurse out of the running.

RELATED: What Does It Mean to Be a Per-Diem Nurse?

Deciding to be a nurse in a union vs. non-union environment is a personal choice. Nurses seeking employment should research the employer as well as the union status of its nurses before selecting a position.

Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC
Share This: