Unions first emerged in the 19th century as significant political movements. During a time when wages were low, hours were long and safety regulations were virtually non-existent, employees organized to address these issues. Unions enabled workers to gain input and decision-making power where management once held universal authority. In the 21stcentury workforce, it seems as if some unions are a luxury in lieu of a necessity. While some advantages remain, the present day Unions can pose a problem for some employees as well as management.
In my opinion and the opinion of many in the labor field, one of the most controversial business leaders in American history is Henry Clay Frick, born in Overton, Pennsylvania in 1849, he was a millionaire by the time he was 30. With the help of his grandfather (a merchant in Pittsburgh) and some additional family monies, Henry Frick began to purchase coal mines and produced coke, a necessary ingredient for the Pittsburgh steel industry. His company became the largest producer of coke in the world, operating 12,000 coke ovens and acquiring 40,000 acres of coal.
Henry Frick became infamous during the Homestead Works’ steel mill strike when Henry attempted to bring in 300 strikebreakers to keep the mill functioning. The strikebreakers met strong resistance from the striking workers, and after a day of fighting, 16 people were left dead, and scores more injured. Pennsylvania’s Governor at the time put Homestead under martial law to quell the violence, and Henry Clay Frick drew scorn from the public for his strong anti-worker and anti-union stance. He was indeed a very controversial figure in a period of American history where industrial capitalists built this country’s infrastructure. In my eyes, he redeemed himself slightly (only slightly) by donating his home and his collection of art in New York City to the City. It is one of the greatest collections I’ve ever had the privilege to view. What he couldn’t do for society during his life, he gave to society with his death.
Unionized workers experience much more job security than their non-unionized counterparts, because the union makes the final decision about disciplinary action or termination. Unionized employees can also file grievances (complaints) with their union representatives, who then take them up with management on their behalf. Unions tend to be meticulous when it comes to working conditions, in order to insure a safe working environment. A significant advantage for managers is that collective bargaining with unions establish agreements that can’t be disputed until the contract expires. This makes the cost associated with pay and benefits more predictable. Turnover is less common, since employees generally enjoy the safety and security that unions bring.
Disadvantages for unionization are very limited, however, in the situation when management and employees are unable to come to an agreement for compensation and/or benefits, a strike is always likely. Also, majority ‘rules’ in a unionized environment and if a strike is voted by the majority then all employees go on strike. Unions can be extremely frustrating for managers, especially if the relationship with the union hierarchy is strained. Union contracts can be frustrating for management when business conditions change; management may be unable to cut hours or lay off workers.
Do Nurse Labor Unions have a place in Healthcare? All professions have the right to form unions and take actions to force management to act, but should Nurses take part in these squabbles? Patients depend on Nurses to be there for them, and some may see striking as a dereliction of duty. Some Medical Facilities may take advantage of this and this could lead to poorer working conditions for Nurses. In some areas, conditions are deplorable. As with most things in the Healthcare arena, one can find strong positives and negatives for the inclusion of unions.
One can be sure that management is always going to want to cut costs or make a profit, as they should, whether not for profit or for profit. Many cost cutting options impact the Nurses, possibly due to the fact that management may not comprehend how difficult nursing can be. With unions, Nurses can come together and use the leverage of their numbers to combat ideas as to how much a Nurse is actually worth. Salary is very rarely an issue with Nurses any longer; issues tend to be focused on working conditions. One of the cons of unionization involves the payment of dues to a labor union that may or may not help the environment in which the Nurse works. Regardless, most Medical Facilities in the area that SCB services have a high regard for the Nurse and his or her value to the facility.
Our strikes since the 1890’s have been much tamer than the Homestead Works’ event and there has developed much more of an appreciation between labor and management. There will always be differences regarding salary, hours or work, benefits, etc. The main vehicle to help resolve these issues is an ongoing dialog between the employees and management. The American Labor Movement has slowed but is nowhere near gone and although we have made great strides in the treatment of workers in many areas, please read my earlier Blogs to see that much more is needed to be gained, from every side of the business world.