What Are the Pros and Cons of Joining a Nursing Union?

March 3, 2022 · 4 Min Read

Reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

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Nurses' unions spark strong feelings. Learn about the pros and cons of nursing unions and what joining a nurses' union would mean for you.

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What Are the Pros and Cons of Joining a Nursing Union?
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Labor unions give workers the power to negotiate for better working conditions, and nurses' unions are no different. Many nurses join a union to advocate for better hours, increased pay, and positive changes in the workplace. While there are many advantages to joining a nurses' union, there are also drawbacks to consider.

This guide explores the pros and cons of joining a nursing union, along with some frequently asked questions.

Nurses' Union Pros and Cons: At a Glance

Pros


Ensure safe working conditions Advocate for better pay Ensure due process for discipline Provide consistent standards for hiring, promotion, and termination Investigates grievances

Cons


Union fees Unpaid strikes Not all members support all collective action Seniority more rewarded than performance Can protect nurses over patients

What Is a Nurses' Union?

Nurses' unions are unified organizations that represent a specific group of nurses, such as those who work in a certain hospital system or a particular state. Unions advocate for nurses and protect their rights through collective action and negotiations.

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Nurses' Union Pros

Members can expect a nurses' union to do the following.

Nurses' unions mandate certain standards for working conditions, including staffing levels, adequate breaks, safety equipment, and protection from violence and harassment.

Nurses advocate for better pay and benefits. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers (not just nurses) who are union members earn an average of $1,380 weekly, compared to $1,200 for those who are not in or represented by a union.

Some unions also provide added benefits, like paying for health insurance premiums.

Unions also ensure bonuses and yearly or biyearly raises are built into contracts. Unions and a collective bargaining unit will help to ensure those yearly benchmarks are met and raises are given.

Nurses' unions establish processes for nurses facing disciplinary charges. These guidelines ensure that nurses cannot be terminated or disciplined unfairly or inconsistently.

Nurses' unions verify that the same rules apply to hiring, promotion, and termination. This means that employees know what to expect and that everyone is held to the same standards.

Nurses who raise a complaint with management do not have to do so on their own. They can call for the nurses' union to investigate and act for them if they have cause for complaint. Some unions will supply an attorney rather than the nurse having to find their own attorney.

While these actions provide nurses with valuable support, there can be downsides to nurses' unions.

Nurses' Union Cons

There are also some reasons not to join or support a nurses' union or its policies.

While most unions get more pay for their members than they cost the nurses in fees, union fees are still an item out of your paycheck.

Strikes are a union's most powerful action, but they carry a cost. Striking nurses aren't paid, and some nurses may not personally support the cause behind a strike.

While unions derive their power from collective action, some members might not always support all union stances. For example, many nurses support vaccination mandates for healthcare professionals, while some nurses' unions oppose them.

According to many nursing union contracts, promotions and/or raises are based on seniority. The person who has worked the longest gets the first chance at a promotion or a larger raise. Many hospitals and unions will also have an advancement ladder that factors education, certifications, and years of experience.

Seniority is objective and easy to measure. However, when seniority is the most important factor in promotions, stellar performers receive the same rewards as those who are only adequate workers.

Unions are designed to protect nurses rather than patients, which can negatively impact patient care. For example, unions make it difficult to terminate nurses, which may empower nurses who perform poorly.

Nurses' Union FAQs

Some questions may arise as you consider the pros and cons of nursing unions. Here are a few frequently asked questions.


Are nursing unions good or bad?

Nursing unions protect indispensable members of the healthcare industry. Many union policies and developments, such as adequate staffing ratios and safety equipment, directly help patients. Some research indicates nurses' union membership results in better patient outcomes. However, unions' emphasis on standards and seniority may remove some motivation for excellent performance.

Do unions benefit or harm healthcare and nursing industries?

The pros and cons of unions in healthcare often spark debate. While unions protect and advocate for workers, they represent only one part of the healthcare ecosystem. Unions may fight for their members at the expense of patients and other stakeholders.

Should I join a nurses' union? What are the pros and cons?

The pros and cons of nursing unions depend on your personal choices and priorities. Before joining, you should consider factors like dues, the likelihood of going on strike, the union's leadership and ethics, and your career goals.

What is the purpose of a nursing union?

A nursing union protects and advocates for nurses, using collective action to make demands on members' behalf. These demands often involve compensation, working conditions, and work policies and procedures.

Many hospitals work hard to get the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Magnet designation. Staffing, pay levels, and nursing education are all aspects nursing unions help with, so there can be overlay between union requirements and Magnet status.

Nurses' Union Resources

These resources offer more information on nurses' unions, so you can decide if the pros of joining outweigh the cons.

With approximately 175,000 members, NNU is the nation's largest nurses' union. NUHW supports around 15,000 members from all healthcare fields. This federal agency enforces labor laws, including those regulating unions. This NPR story explores COVID-19's impact on unions and union membership. Investopedia provides a broad historical overview of unions, including a look at current efforts.

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Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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