Can more unions help overworked healthcare workers?

In the face of growing challenges within the healthcare industry, including overwork, high turnover rates, and the departure of healthcare workers from the field, the role of unions has come under intense scrutiny. With only a small fraction of healthcare workers unionized as of 2021, there is a burgeoning conversation about how these organizations can offer support and advocacy for those on the front lines of care. Unions, traditionally seen as a force for worker rights and better conditions, have the potential to play a pivotal role in transforming the healthcare sector. As industry leaders and workers alike grapple with these issues, the question of whether unions can be a catalyst for positive change is more relevant than ever.

In 2021, only 13.2% of healthcare workers were unionized. Healthcare workers are consistently overworked, and we are seeing an increase in turnover and healthcare workers leaving the field altogether. Can unions help overworked workers in the healthcare industry?

“Healthcare executives should embrace unions within their healthcare systems as it will enable them to create and foster a collaborative leadership model with their clinicians to ultimately improve both patient and employee safety,” explains DoorSpace CEO Sarah M. Worthy.

Despite the possible benefits unions could have for the healthcare industry as a whole, nearly 30% of all people do not approve of unions.

“Unions get a lot of flack in our society – but dig deeper and there’s a ton of evidence to support the benefits of unions to maintaining a strong economy and middle class and a lot of propaganda created by for-profit interests that wants us to believe unionization hurts us,” Sarah explains. “The truth is that unions give employees collective negotiating power that is critical to ensuring a positive and safe work environment. The US healthcare industry is seeing a rise in unionization across nurses and especially physicians because our clinical workforce has realized corporate interests will always put profits before people unless they work together to demand better leadership.”

The rise in unionization within the healthcare sector signifies a shift towards advocating for workers’ rights and better working conditions. Unions in healthcare can lead to significant improvements in staff-to-patient ratios, ensuring that healthcare workers are not overburdened and can provide the best possible care to their patients. Additionally, unions can negotiate for higher wages and better benefits, which is crucial in retaining skilled workers and preventing the high turnover rates that plague the industry. These changes not only benefit the workers but also lead to higher patient satisfaction and safety, as well-staffed and well-compensated teams are more effective and less prone to errors.

The presence of unions can help address systemic issues within healthcare settings, such as workplace safety, harassment, and discrimination. By providing a platform for collective voice and action, unions empower healthcare workers to advocate for a safer and more equitable work environment. This collective bargaining power can lead to the implementation of policies that protect workers from occupational hazards and ensure that all employees are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their position or background.

In a time when the healthcare industry faces unprecedented challenges, including a global pandemic and increasing demand for services, the role of unions becomes even more critical. By fostering a culture of collaboration and respect between healthcare workers and management, unions can help bridge the gap and address the concerns of overworked employees. This partnership can lead to innovative solutions that improve the quality of care, enhance worker satisfaction, and stabilize the healthcare workforce for the future.

The debate around healthcare unions is complex, encompassing concerns about patient care, employee welfare, and the economic implications of unionization. However, the evidence points to a clear benefit: unions can indeed offer a pathway to improved conditions for healthcare workers, better patient outcomes, and a more stable healthcare system. By facilitating dialogue between employees and management, advocating for fair work conditions, and pushing for policies that prioritize the well-being of both staff and patients, unions have the potential to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the healthcare industry today. As we move forward, it will be crucial for all stakeholders to consider the role of unions not as a hindrance but as a crucial partner in building a healthcare system that is resilient, equitable, and capable of meeting the needs of its workers and the communities they serve.