13 Pros and Cons of Nursing Unions

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Nursing unions have a long and complex history, with both positive and negative effects on nurses. Nursing unions are one of the most controversial topics in healthcare. Nursing unions have been around since the 1950s, but their numbers have risen dramatically over the last few decades. There is a lot to consider when debating whether or not nurses should unionize. Do you know what are the pros and cons of nursing unions? Do not worry if you do not. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of nursing unions so that you will be able to decide if a nursing union is suitable for you and your hospital.

What is a Nursing Union?

A nursing union is a collaboration of nurses towards a common goal or purpose. The term "union" is used to describe the group coming together. There are also professional nursing unions that bring organizations together at a national level. These groups share information about legislation, politics, and rights within the public sector. Professional nursing unions and the nursing associations they represent help ensure that legislation and actions made by the government affect nurses positively. The nurse's union is used as a group of people who work to make changes for their profession by influencing politicians or working with other registered professionals such as doctors. You can find nursing unions at the local, area, state, and national levels. Unionized nurses can be found working in hospitals, schools, universities, nursing homes, and the public sector.



(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of Nursing Unions.)

1. You will need to pay regular dues.

One of the top disadvantages of nursing unions is the regular dues that you will be required to pay. When you are just starting nursing, it's easy to be lured in by all of the great promises of having a voice and being heard that unions make. However, when you get an honest look at nurses' unions, they can seem more like a big waste of money with little to no real benefit for the amount of dues you will have to pay.

2. The dues you pay will not be based on how many hours you work.

Regardless of if you work full-time, part-time, or if you are a per diem nurse who works three shifts a month, you will still need to pay the same amount in union dues. The con of joining nursing unions is that you will be required to pay dues no matter if you are working or not. So, while analyzing the pros and cons of nursing unions one important factor you should really think about is that if you do not work that often you will still need to shell out the full amount in dues.

3. You must go on strike if the nursing union declares one.

One of the cons of being part of a nursing union is that you must go on strike if the union declares one. This means leaving your job and not going in until the issue is resolved. You will have the choice to cross the picket line during the strike, but if you do, there will be repercussions. Some of these repercussions can be getting your elected position revoked, losing all health benefits, and getting fined. The union will also communicate this with other unions to let them know you crossed the picket line. Your coworkers may no longer be willing to help you if they know you crossed the line.

4. You will not be paid in any form if you go on strike.

If the nursing union declares a strike, you will not receive a paycheck for the strike duration. Not receiving a paycheck can be difficult on so many levels and is one of the biggest disadvantages of nursing unions. You still have to pay your mortgage and car payments, that weekly trip to the grocery store for milk and bread, and everything else in between. If you don't get paid, how will you afford these things?

5. You may lose health benefits coverage if you go on strike.

If you are a nurse and the union declares a strike, don't forget the part where you lose your health benefits. What will happen if you or a loved one requires medical attention? If you are on strike, you better prepare for some pretty hefty bills coming your way. I hope you prepare for debt.

6. Seniority means you may be passed up for a promotion.

In a nursing union, all of the promotions are based on seniority. In a nutshell, it does not matter if you are good at your job in a nursing union. It just matters how long you have been at your job. That can be highly frustrating for nurses who want to advance. This is very beneficial to the majority of mediocre nurses. So, If you are a nurse who is just starting out at a union hospital, you have no seniority. When assessing the pros and cons of nursing unions, you need to decide if starting out as a low man on the totem pole is worth the reward of one day having top seniority.

7. You will have less control over what shift you work.

When you are part of a nursing union, you may not control which shift you work. You may be unable to acquire a day position right away and start by working the night shift. If you are not accustomed to working overnights, this shift will be difficult. You will have to wait for a day position to become available and then bid on it. Keep in mind, if a more senior nurse bids for it, then they will get the day position over you.

8. You will have less control over what hours you work.

As a nurse who is part of a nursing union, you will not fully dictate what days you will be working. Your schedule will be assigned to you. You will have to work a set number of holidays and weekends each year as dictated by the negotiated nursing contract. If you do not like the days, weekends, or holidays you were assigned, well then, I hope somebody is willing to switch with you.

9. The care of your patients may suffer.

One of the cons of nursing unions is that patient care may be compromised when a strike is called. Poor care can occur if their substitute nurse can't do their job well or isn't trained correctly. Another problem is that incompetent nurses remain in the nursing industry because they cannot get fired. Some of these nurses might remain incompetent and not care about the company they work for or their patients. That can lead to more problems.

10. You may feel a dissent in the workplace

Another one of the cons of a nursing union is that it may lead to dissent in the workplace. This is because a nursing union can create a them versus us mentality. This mentality is destructive because instead of working together and supporting each other, management and nurses who should be colleagues and fighting for the exact cause might actually turn against each other.

11. You could be bumped out of your position.

In the world of nursing unions, you may think your position is safe, but it may not be as ironclad as you are hoping for. You can essentially be bumped from your current position by a more senior staff member. When an institution is laying off employees, a more senior staff member who is about to be laid off can bump a less senior staff member out of their job to preserve their own employment. This can be seen as an unfair practice since fewer senior staff members will essentially lose their jobs.

12. You will have to continue to work with underperforming colleagues.

In a nursing union, it is challenging to terminate consistently underperforming employees. This will lead to others picking up their slack or the patient receiving subpar care and potentially damaging relationships within the team.

13. Your opinion may not matter.

One of the disadvantages of nursing unions is that if you disagree on a specific stance that the union takes on a particular subject your single voice will not matter. You are one of many, and you are only one voice. So, even though you do not agree with something, well looks like you will be going along with it anyway.


(The following are the top 13 advantages of Nursing Unions.)

1. You may receive higher wages.

One of the most significant advantages of nursing unions is the bargaining power to ensure that you are paid well. Nurses who are part of a nursing union typically will have higher wages than nurses not part of a union. Another advantage of being in a nursing union is that raises to your salary will be negotiated for you. You do not have to worry about going through the process of negotiating your own raise.

2. You may have improved working conditions.

If you are part of nursing unions, you can expect to enjoy better working conditions due to the negotiations that happen during your collective bargaining process. These better working conditions will lead to improved patient care and your own happiness at work.

3. Your schedule may be protected in certain aspects.

One of the advantages of nursing unions is that they can push healthcare institutions to improve conditions for employees, like staffing levels and ratios and scheduling changes. A study published in the American Journal of Nursing found that a protected schedule helped nurses reduce chronic work stress and avoid preventable medical errors. One of the pros and cons of nursing unions is that you will have to consider is that yes, your schedule will be protected, but the healthcare institution will still be able to dictate certain aspects such as weekends and holidays.

4. You will have job security.

Job security can be a crucial factor in a person's life, as many people worry about the prospect of going unemployed. One of the most significant advantages of being part of a nursing union is that you will have job security. Most nursing unions negotiate contracts that will shield their members from being fired without cause. Some of the most common terms in these contracts are: There must be a clear and compelling reason for termination, such as sexual misconduct or neglect. A written warning must first be given to the employee who will face termination if their performance does not improve, and the employer cannot reassign you to other units without your consent.

5. You will have legal representation.

As a member of a nursing union, you will be entitled to share in the benefits of representation. Suppose you are in a situation where disciplinary action may be taken against you in your workplace. In that case, the nursing union will send a delegate to ensure you are treated fairly and that there is no breach of contract. Nursing unions go a step further, though. In certain workplace situations where you feel that your rights have been breached, the nursing union will take legal action on your behalf to protect you from unfair treatment.

6. You will have better benefits.

When you are part of a nursing union, you will be entitled to benefits that ensure security for you and your family. The benefits you could be entitled to include: Paid sick days, maternity leave, and time off for family emergencies. You may also receive medical, dental, and vision coverage for you and your family with little to no cost. One of the top pros of nursing unions is that these benefits that they provide will give you peace of mind.

7. You may have perks to your retirement.

One of the perks of being part of a nursing union is that you may be entitled to retirement benefits. Some nursing unions will provide their members with a monthly pension and health benefits once they retire. These benefits will alleviate the need to financially plan for retirement and reduce any stress associated with retiring.

8. You will not be subjected to favoritism in the workplace

Favoritism in the workplace is a reality of many work environments. When you are part of a nursing union, favoritism is almost nonexistent. One of the pros of nursing unions is that you can expect to be treated fairly and equally in a union. In a non-unionized work environment, the manager usually has the right to choose their own staff. This can create an atmosphere where favoritism occurs. In this type of workplace, you may notice that some nurses get better schedules than others or get more assignments to choose from than others do. A union workplace is different in this way.

9. There will be a process should a grievance arise with your employer

If an issue should arise in the workplace, the nursing union has put some protocols in place. The nurse, alongside the nursing union, can file a grievance. A grievance is a formal accusation against someone, or something believed to be unjust or wrong. The nursing union will ensure that the issue is looked into and appropriately resolved. The nursing union may send someone from the board to look at your issue seriously or if they think the hospital isn't dealing with it properly.

10. You may be able to access benefits outside of the workplace

As a member of a nursing union, you get to enjoy exclusive benefits such as discounts outside of the hospital. Some of these benefits will include discounts on travel, dining, and shopping. This is great and can save you a ton of money.

11. You will have strength in numbers

One of the biggest advantages of nursing unions is ensuring that you are never going at it alone. You are part of a group that is there for each other, works together for the exact cause, and knows what you are going through. Remember, there is strength in numbers.

12. Your seniority will benefit you

Seniority is essentially the key to nursing unions. Seniority in the workplace can benefit you by protecting you from arbitrary actions and providing opportunities for advancement. Seniority impacts basically every aspect of your job, from how much you get paid to the benefits you receive. It will also affect your schedule. Basically, when you work for a unionized institution, you will be rewarded for the longer you have worked there.

13. You may be able to receive free education.

Nursing unions can help you access education and training and keep you up-to-date on the latest laws and regulations. You will also have access to a plethora of continuing education credits. Depending on your licensed state, you may need these continuing education credits to renew your license.

My Final Thoughts

So, what are the pros and cons of nursing unions? The pros and cons of nursing unions are a hotly debated topic. For some, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. In contrast, others would rather not have to deal with any potential risks associated with union membership. The top 13 pros and cons of nursing unions that I have presented to you will help you determine if joining a union is suitable for your situation or not. The union could be the perfect solution for some nurses. Still, not for others, so it's essential to consider all sides of the debate before making your decision on whether or not you want to join one.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.