By Peggy McDaniel, BSN, RN
Yesterday a new and powerful union was formed. The National Nurses United brings over 150,000 nurses together by combining the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee with the Massachusetts Nursing Association and some members of the United American Nurses. The new “superunion” intends to focus both on influencing health care reform and on improving quality of care through such efforts as extending California’s patient ratio law into other states.
I have never worked in a union-supported hospital, nor have I ever belonged to a union. My father was an electrical engineer and although he was a union member, he always talked about the “union guys” who worked as little as possible. I remember his frustration at members who took advantage of the positive conditions promoted by unions. When I was a newly employed nursing graduate, one of my friends was a card-carrying pipefitter. He bragged about not doing any work for days on end because there were no laborers around to carry his materials!
As a hardworking staff nurse, I was angered by his complacency. I couldn’t imagine not clearing away a patient tray if the nurse’s aide hadn’t had time. I approached my nursing role as a team member focused on taking care of the patients—sometimes to my own detriment, since I was one of “those” nurses who often skipped breaks to complete tasks or charting. That said, I have seen the good that unions have done for nursing, especially around working conditions and benefits.
Given the current push to reform health care, this new union could make a difference for both nurses and our patients. As a nurse now focused on quality improvement, I would like to see nursing unions bring out the best in nurses by promoting compliance to evidence-based best practices and supporting professional development. There is now evidence to support IV therapy teams in hospitals and appropriate staffing ratios. Since the evidence is there, let’s push to make these a reality in a majority of hospitals instead of only a few. At the same time, let’s hold our fellow professionals accountable to provide safe care 100% of the time, down to the idea that hand hygiene is not optional.
Are you part of a union? Do you have a story to tell about being a union member? What do you think this new union could do to promote the state of nursing and what part should it play in our current health care reform process?