Should Nurses Have the Power to Unionize?
Jennnifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN | NursingLink
Should nurses have the power to unionize?
The question is almost as old as the labor movement itself. Some nurses consider unionization unprofessional; others consider unions an essential tool to help ensure safe practice environments. The question, though, may soon be moot. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has proposed a Budget Repair Bill that will strip public employees – including nurses in state correctional facilities, psychiatric hospitals, long term care homes and the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics – of their collective bargaining rights. Similar bills have been proposed in Indiana and Ohio.
The Issue: The End of Collective Bargaining?
The American Nurses Association first endorsed collective bargaining in 1946. At the time, collective bargaining was seen as a way to improve wages and work conditions. Over time, nurses’ attention shifted from wages, benefits, and work conditions, to patient safety issues. Recent strikes in California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have focused on nurse-patient ratios after anecdotal evidence and scholarly research linked minimum nurse-to-patient ratios to improved patient outcomes.
Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal (and others) would effectively eliminate collective bargaining for state employees. State employees could no longer use collective bargaining to negotiate benefits, a move Walker says is essential to balance the budget. Employees could still negotiate wages, but wage increases could not exceed inflation. Unions would no longer be allowed to deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks, a move that labor leaders say signals Walker’s intent to weaken unions.
“This is not a way to balance the budget but purely to dissolve unions,” says Jeff Weber, RN, vice president of the Milwaukee chapter of Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and a 15-year employee at the Milwaukee Mental Health Complex. “Eliminating the ability of unions to collect dues through direct payroll contribution has nothing to do with a budget deficit, absolutely nothing to do with balancing the books of the state of Wisconsin. It has everything to do with busting the unions.”