Organizing a nurse's union 101
October 10, 2020 4:17 PM   Subscribe

There's been talk of unionizing at my hospital. Most everyone here in the ER seems for it. Someone reached out to a union rep and if there's enough interest he will hold a zoom call with us to answer questions. What should I expect?

I don't know anything about unionizing. I know we would have to pay dues, and I know that management has a team of lawyers ready to fight it.

Here's the culture right now:
Our conditions are terrible; I regularly work 12-14 hour shifts and get a half hour break maybe once a month.
Our staffing during the day is okay but at night it is at the bare minimum and unsafe. Like, 1:7 ratio.
Management introduces inane, impossible policies as a tactic to apply selectively to punish people and to avoid pay raises.
Speaking of management, there is palpable hostility between the ER nurses and our managers. Literal hatred. They will gladly burn us all down.

Really I feel like a union is all that's left, but I want to know some possibilities for how this will all go down. What should I know ?
posted by pintapicasso to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Edit - the zoom informational meeting is already scheduled.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:18 PM on October 10

I am not familiar with the health care industry, but you may want to research and see what alternate unions represent in your field. Maybe one is a better fit or can help out more than others.

There are also pro-labor attorneys you will want to look into.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:46 PM on October 10

The union rep should walk you through the process, but basically it goes:

1. Get a bunch of signatures indicating that there is sufficient interest to begin the process.

2. Get harassed by management while negotiating/wrangling over things like who is even eligible.

3. Vote

4. If the vote isn't super-lopsided, continue dealing with attempts to invalidate certain votes.

5. Maybe you have a union?
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:48 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]

I’m not in healthcare but my workgroup formed a union since I’ve been here. There’s some variation in state laws, the organizer can give you process details and timeframes. You’ll likely want to know about protection from retaliation, your rights regarding talking about the union at work / wearing union logos, and potentially ways you could turn the screws on management if you need to (healthcare workers are typically legally restricted in their ability to strike, for example). Talking to a few different unions is a good idea. Contracts are also often available online, if you want to get a range of what your dues might be and things you might want to organize around as issues. We didn’t pay dues until we approved a contract, organizing was funded by the union org (aka the dues of union members!).

I was surprised that it took nearly two years of bargaining to get our first contract and apparently that’s normal for our situation. There are other directly comparable unionized groups in my state, and management pushed hard on a lot of the incredibly standard things we asked for.
posted by momus_window at 7:48 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

The main thing that you'll need to understand is that your employer will harass the shit out of everyone involved. (It sounds like they're already doing that, though!) Much of what they're likely to do is illegal. Enforcement of the law in this regard works slowly, and not on a timeline that your employer is likely to care about.

Before the vote, during the campaign, union organizers' job is to think through some strategies to deal with retaliation--frequently local levers of legal and moral authority are invoked in the face of ineffective Federal levers of legal authority, and sometimes that works more effectively anyway!

One addition to Dr.Enormous' walk-through. It's conceivable you won't have a formal vote. Frequently, union campaigns favor a "card-check" recognition over a vote, and often-times that's because it reduces the efficacy of harassment and intimidation by management. So, maybe your vote will actually just be signing a card that says you favor the union. Or maybe it will actually be showing up to vote on a specific day. With card-check, the employer would have to voluntarily recognize you after some amount of public pressure and shame and perhaps fines incurred for violating the law. With a vote, the National Labor Relations Board has oversight and the law, rather than the employer, recognizes you. I'm not a labor lawyer but that's roughly how I would summarize it.

Good luck to you and your coworkers. Every nurse I know in a union hospital is exponentially better off than the ones I've met in non-union hospitals.
posted by kensington314 at 10:37 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]

You could look at what just happened here in Asheville NC- there was a successful union vote even in an anti-union state. Not clear how it's going to shake out though.

You don't mention if your hospital is nonprofit, university affiliated, or part of a huge megacorp (ours is HCA which is the devil as far as I can tell) but I think that makes a huge difference in how organized the opposition will be.
posted by genmonster at 11:45 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

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