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The benefits of union membership: numerous and measurable

What difference does it make to work in a union facility versus a non-union facility? Can the differences be quantified and measured?

The evidence illustrates that unionized nurses earn more. They also have better pension and health care benefits; better sickness and accident benefits; contractual protections for safety on the job; better job security; protections from discretionary actions by the employer; and a powerful voice in their workplace.

Union members also have the ability to advocate for their patients and for quality health care in a real and enforceable manner. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Nursing Administration (March 2002, vol. 2, No. 3), patients—specifically patients suffering a heart attack—have better outcomes in a union facility compared to a nonunion facility.

Benefit Union Non-Union
Voice in Patient Care   Through the contract, RNs can negotiate enforceable language on staffing levels, mandatory overtime, floating and other issues that impact directly on patient care and the quality of health care. In some facilities, RNs may be afforded the opportunity to make suggestions on some issues, that management is then free to ignore. None of the nurse input is enforceable.
Wages, benefits and working conditions These are negotiated. All members have the opportunity to improve their working conditions through contract negotiations at the bargaining table. All are unilaterally set by the employer. No avenue for employee input. Management gives what it wants to.  
Changes in working conditions The negotiated contract establishes all working conditions. These can only be changed by negotiations between the parties Changes can be made at any time, without warning, by the employer alone.  

The difference between unionized and non-unionized nurses is also reflected in their pay scales. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the difference in median weekly earnings for 2004 shows that there is a 27 percent wage advantage in union facilities (all industries, public and private) over non-union facilities. Furthermore, the union wage advantage (all based on median weekly earnings) for women is 33 percent, for African-Americans is 35 percent, for Latinos is 51 percent, and 11 percent for Asian Americans.

It is clear that being unionized makes a world of difference, in obvious and measurable ways. Furthermore, the benefits of unionization extend well beyond those of simple self-interest. The contract and the union make a difference in the lives of its members, as well as a difference in the patients they care for and serve.  


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