To Join or Not to Join a Nursing Union

By Helen M. French RN,BSN on Sun, Mar 04, 2012

nursing unions, great  nursesThe topic of ''nursing unions'' usually generates lively responses on my operating room chat group.

Even though I am now a retired operating room nurse, during my nursing career, I always lived by an old operating room mantra, "Be the Voice of the Voiceless". Since Operating Room nurses, especially, work with the 'voiceless' day in and day out, we basically become either the voice of the patient or the silence of the victims! 

Anyone can research the pros and cons of unions. My question is, "Why is the need for nursing unions even present in our so called modern society?” Are we so blinded by the extraneous issues pertaining to “who” is really a professional nurse, our cultural ionic image, our power, our reimbursement, and someone’s need to keep certain educational institutions solvent, that at the end of the day, we have lost our focus?

The direct patient care givers’ focus has to be on the real issues in hospitals regarding our patients. We cannot allow any patient to become a victim! Even nurses in our health care system have become victimized due to a lack of compassion from their system, thus suffering from physical and mental health problems brought on by their nursing job. Most nurses cannot just up and leave their job! Therefore, mediator’s, i.e., nursing unions, have sprung up.

I believe it to be an oxymoron that nurses were and are always reminded as to the legal and ethical fact that 'we' are responsible for our own direct patient care, as well as being legally and ethically responsible for all unlicensed staffers to whom we must delegate nursing tasks. What a terrible burden has been placed on the shoulders of all registered nurses! If any registered nurse, despite their level of education, does not feel the weight of this 'burden' right down to the inner core of their heart, then I would suggest that they leave nursing since their arrogance or ignorance has or will injure or kill a patient. 

Our health care issues are enormous and extremely complex but clear. However, the issues begin at each hospital or clinic level where many direct patient care givers’ voices have been pacified via a secure job or via importance, or silenced either by the facility or by their own 'nurses in power', who want to sit at the right hand of the gods of power and of gold.

There has to be a balance of nursing power at all levels in all health care facilities no matter if they are unionized or not unionized! If health care facilities do not accept a burden of ethical responsibility for their employees, then their most important client, and their reason for existing, i.e. the patient, will suffer the consequences of poor patient care due to: inadequate patient/nurse ratios, poor and ineffective nursing recruitment and retention, nursing lateral violence, especially through bullying, nursing salaries which don’t reflect certifications, mandatory delegating or mandatory overtime (no relief is the same thing as mandatory OT), lack of whistleblowers protection, workplace health and safety issues, state “At Will” regulations and laws, etc. 

Most of the preceding issues would not exist if monies were not spent on programs to make nursing look better. Nursing already has a positive public image, which is reflected in public surveys. We don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone but to our patients! We don’t need 'excellence'  programs or 'magnet' programs, or to be told that diploma, associate and BSN nurses, who all take the same national, nursing exam, have to obtain a masters or PHD degree in order to become great nurses. We can figure “it” all out in the name of our patients. We can figure “it” all out by ourselves! 

The truth of the matter is that all national data is showing only the tip of the iceberg in health care numbers of patient carnage via the 'Never Events' i.e. infections, errors, injuries, and deaths. Whether anyone decides to join a nurses’ union or not, the right and freedom to choose must be the nurse’s to make! However, nursing input in all health care facilities has to be made via real direct patient care nurses, not just by superficial nursing figureheads. We also don’t need the national board of nursing telling RNs “how” to delegate their “tasks”! We know “who” is competent enough to be trusted to assist us with patient care! We can make our own decisions.

Since nursing decisions will be reflected in patient data sooner or later, and especially per ones’ liability insurance policy, the bottom line has to be patient safety so patients do not become a statistic as they have become in the last five years! I encourage all nurses to UNITE on the real issues! Our real nursing image should never be tarnished! It would be a sad day in nursing history to be known for wearing the BLUE awareness color for patients, signifying those who have become victims of our health care system. We are our patients’ true advocates.

To join or not to join a nursing union, again, is up to each individual nurse! However, if one’s choice enhances patient care, then it was the right choice!


My opinions,

Helen M. French RN, BSN


The statements and opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of


Anonymous 3 years ago
Nursing unions have an exceptionally poor track record in regard to nominal wages of nurses, that is from an individual perspective there are costs which are real, and benefits that are not.

Additionally it's antithetical to the notion of being a professional. Acknowledged professions like Law, Clergy, Physicians don't effectively unionize, it's a bit unseemly.

Anonymous 3 years ago
The primary benefit of a labor union is that it provides an EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT with top management.

Top C-level (CEO, CFO, COO, CIO) MANAGEMENT HAS AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT with the Board of Directors. If these people believe they need an employment contract, don't you think that lower level employees should also have an employment contract as well?

The contract details: expectations, terms of employment, and terms for discharge and separation.

If a CEO has one, nurses should have one too! Since their is only one CEO, he/she doesn't need a union to write a contract. He/she has their attorney write one up. However, since there is more than one nurse in an organization, it makes sense to have only ONE CONTRACT that is the same for everyone. THIS IS WHAT A LABOR UNION OBTAINS--A LABOR (EMPLOYMENT) CONTRACT.

I can assure you that if corporations were run by five CEO's instead of just one CEO, they would organize together to get a contract! And, they would in essence have formed a labor union.
But, a corporation is not run by a single CEO. It is however run by a CEO, CFO, COO, and CIO at a minimum. And they have contracts! In some sense then, they have formed a union for themselves--let's recognize and call it the C-Union if you like.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I absolutely believe that bsn should be entry into nursing for R.N. I believe future programs should BSN. Nurses already in practice must be grandfathered into the profession without insisting on a BSN.
I also believe we need a union. We are still labor as are MDs who are not in individual practice. There is no protection for patients unless nurses maintain a voice in patient care practices and without a union would be quickly shut up or down.