National Union of Health Workers
Historically, labor unions have played a significant role in advocating for the rights and welfare of health workers. For instance, they have supported better working condition and remuneration of workers, criminalization of child labor, and protection of freedom of workers (Hagedom, 2016). Despite their significant role, the density of trade union continues to fall drastically over the last four decades. Several reports indicated that 2014 had the lowest frequency of trade unions uptake among health workers (Hagedom, 2016). Additionally, the Supreme Court of the United States majority ruling on trade union will significantly impact on the financial capacity and bargaining power of trade unions in the country. One of such trade union to be affected by the ruling is the National Union of Healthcare workers (Dynarski, 2018).
The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) were founded in 2009 to advocate for the welfare and rights of health worker and patients (NUHW, 2019). The union has more than fifteen thousand members in the United States, the majority being mental health workers, nurses, clerical workers, and technical workers. Even though the union founded in 2009, it separated from one of the oldest health workers trade union to give workers a democratic voice to vote, set agenda, and lead bargaining (NUHW, 2019).
The history of NUHW started from the 1934 general strike by workers at the San Francisco General Hospital. The workers had failed to achieve individual pay bargain and resolved for a collective agreement through a workers union, Hospital, and Institutional Workers Union (NUHW, 2019). Through the union, workers held a historic strike that achieved better working condition and higher wages for members. Following the success of the industrial action, the union recruited members from the private hospital in the city (NUHW, 2019). Chartered in 1938 as the American Federation of Labor, and later renamed Service Employees International Union, the union made a significant impact in the welfare of health workers.
First, the union was the first health workers union to negotiate and bargain for equal rights and better remuneration of employees. Through such initiatives, workers received paid vacation, higher wages, leave days, and formulation of no-discrimination policies at the workplace (NUHW, 2019). Secondly, they introduce a welfare plan, retirement plan, and extension of workers benefits to immediate family members. As a result, the union continued to advocate for the welfare of workers and patients, thereby attracting more labor union to join them.
However, internal disagreements and leadership disputes emerged within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) finally led to the formation of NUHW. The primary causes for the conflicts were negative changes in union policies that sidelined the majority of the members in the decision-making process. For instance, the union officials were compromised by healthcare companies and employers, thus engaging in backdoor deals and favoring employers (Greenhouse, 2010). Moreover, workers complained of undemocratic processes, characterized by corruption and top-down management strategies within the union. Therefore, to regain control and independence of members, a score of health workers withdrew their membership from SEIU in 2009 to establish the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW, 2019).
Considerably, NUHW is a progressive model of democracy and workers involved in the decision-making process and bargaining. Through its constitution, decision-making powers are in the hands of members. For instance, contracts and bargaining deals are approved by members of the national governing council (NUHW, 2019). NUHW aims at giving alternatives to members who feel their rights are compromised in undemocratic unions. Moreover, the union works towards improving the welfares of patients and caregivers, achieve quality and affordable healthcare, and hold healthcare corporates accountable and answerable to the public (NUHW, 2019). By so doing, the union will deliver a high standard of care for the patients and progressive labor rights. In the recent past, the NUHW successfully forced Kaiser Permanente to improve mental health services to patients.
The Supreme Court held that workers who voluntarily decide not to join unions should not be forced to contribute to financing unions, and such deductions contravene provisions of the First Amendment (Liptak, 2018). What the ruling meant was that the non-members of the union are allowed to demand refunds of deductions. Justice Alito decision highlighted the short-term and long term economic implication for the unions, especially the transition cost from loss of subscriptions from non-members. Therefore, the ruling highlights what the union should do and what the union should not advocate for when recruiting and engaging unionized members (Liptak, 2018).
Through the union’s constitutions and policy framework, the union is allowed to create an idea and endorse products that are consistent with the missions and vision of the members. In so doing, organizations are mandated to grant employees’ rights to wear NUHW branded attires or buttons. However, such rights must be consistent with the organization’s policies. Secondly, organizations have the authority to ban any union campaigns within its premises, including ordering outside union official to leave facility premises as per the institutional policies. However, organizations policies cannot abolish the right of employees to have access to the right information about joining the workers union. Thus, the employers should explain to workers that joining the union it does not translate to better wages or benefits. And in so doing, enlighten workers on the organization’s policies and regulations about union membership, including campaigning.
Management must also assure employees that the organization will continue to improve working condition and better the welfare of all workers. Equally, they should inform them of the useful features of working for the organization, such as existing benefits, job security, and the ability to meet individual members’ exceptions. Moreover, workers should be informed about the voluntary process in joining unity, free from coercion and intimidation. As such, the management should administer disciplinary action, including termination of contracts of any employees who threaten or undermines right to join or participate in trade unions. Lastly, employees know that joining union comes with financial implications since they will have to pay subscriptions to the unions. Since membership deduction is paid through union shops or check-off systems, organizations’ management must explain to workers what it means.
However, organizations are prohibited in acting or behaving in a manner that contravenes First amendment and the fundamental rights of employees to form or join trade unions. First, it is illegal to discriminate in any manner employees engaged in trade unions, including those against the union. Secondly, they should not interrogate employees and applicants, publicly or privately concerning unionization. Management is prohibited from using tricks such as promising better wages, vacations, improvement in working conditions, or other benefits to influence members to abandon union or vote against the union. Moreover, it is illegal for any organizations to conduct spying or surveillance in an attempt to determine the level of union support. Lastly, to avoid conflict of interest, organizations are not allowed to support NUHW or any other union financially.
In summation, the trade union is vital in improving working condition and collectively advocating for the right of workers. For a long time, trade unions have continued to champion for democratic participation of workers in governance, including ensuring right working conditions though union contracts (Weinlick, 2015). Moreover, they have significantly contributed to equal employment opportunities and end of discrimination in the workplace, fair remuneration, and job security. Strong unions have helped considerably in reducing income inequalities in the country (Dynarski, 2018). Despite their advantages, unions have the potential to disrupt the provision of essential services such as healthcare during industrial actions such as strike and workers boycotts.
Dynarski, S. (2018). Fresh Proof That Strong Unions Help Reduce Income Inequality. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/06/business/labor-unions-income-inequality.html
Greenhouse, S. (2010). Union Battle in California Threatens S.E.I.U. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/business/14kaiser.html
Hagedorn, J., Paras, C. A., Greenwich, H., & Hagopian, A. (2016). The Role of Labor Unions in Creating Working Conditions that Promote Public Health. American journal of public health, 106(6), 989-995.
Liptak, A. (2018). Supreme Court Ruling Delivers a Sharp Blow to Labor Unions. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/us/politics/supreme-court-unions-organized-labor.html?action=click&module=inline&pgtype=Homepage
NUHW. (2019). About National Union of Healthcare Workers. Retrieved from https://nuhw.org/about/
Weinlick, J. (2015). Pros and Cons of Unions –News-Nexxt. Retrieved from https://www.nexxt.com/ articles/pros-and-cons-of-unions-16881-article.html