Unions' Merger Creates Daunting Adversary for Hospitals

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , September 8, 2009

In addition to understanding the concerns of staff, Trivisonno says hospitals must also clearly state why they oppose unionization, and how they believe it would negatively impact hospital operations. Hospitals must ensure that they have open lines of communication for staff, so they feel like their concerns are being heard and addressed. Again, if you don't do it, unions will.

Hospital leaders should also review union literature to find out what promises they're making. "They are a competitor for the hearts and minds of your employees, so look at what they are offering and make sure you are touting the things that your organization is already doing to meet those needs," he says.

Also, be prepared. Trivisonno recommends that hospitals create a readiness manual for organized labor and put it in a three-ring binder next to the manuals for disaster preparedness and Joint Commission surprise visits. "Labor unions will have their positions well thought out. You can't wait for the 6 o'clock news to respond anymore. You might have 20 minutes to control the message before it is all over the place," he says. "Look at your vulnerabilities, where you may be attacked, and have some kind of reasonable explanation for why you are in that position. Have a statement that's been fully vetted for the issues that have been raised."

A disclaimer: Regardless of how you feel about unions—and if you're management you probably don't like them—they can provide frustrated staff with the voice not just to get a more favorable contract, but to improve patient care and hospital operations. Would a union be needed if you were already addressing those legitimate concerns?

Bottom line: I've said it before, and you need to hear it again: If your staff votes to organize, don't blame the unions. Blame yourself. Hospital leaders get the unions they deserve.

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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