Staffing Ratios the Mantra for Newly Formed NNU

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , December 14, 2009

With consolidation, NNU will be better able to coordinate its organizing efforts from coast to coast, and tout its successes with recruits. "They will showcase a particular collective bargaining agreements or wage increases in the contracts they've gotten in their labor organizations," Trivisonno says. "Now that they've consolidated they can expand the number of success stories that they can point to. If they were to get wage increases in Minnesota, in the past that was a Minnesota story. Now it's part of the NNU and they can use that."

Trivisonno says unions are also parachuting "flight teams" of experienced nurses into contested organizing efforts to help sway their colleagues to vote union. "That is very powerful. They've been there," he says. "In any industry, that is the case when you have somebody who is a colleague. There is tremendous credibility when you've done the job."

The pendulum has definitely swung toward the side of organized labor these days, and nursing unions are well aware of the high demand for skilled clinicians. However, that doesn't mean that hospitals are powerless to stop union encroachment on key issues like staffing ratios, Trivisonno says.

"Every hospital has staffing ratios and they should be talking about that with their nurses," he says. "The unions have stolen the staffing ratios message from hospitals. Now they own it. And hospitals need to take it back and say 'we do have staffing ratios. Here is what they are. Here is how we determine them. Here is how we adjust them. Here is how acuity fits in.'"

The drive to unionize the healthcare sector will get even stronger in the coming months. As the great healthcare reform debate is finalized in Congress—regardless of what comes out—unions and their close friends in the White House will relight the fire for the Employee Free Choice Act, the most sweeping pro-union legislation in decades that will greatly facilitate organization. Are you ready?

Hospitals in right-to-work states can no longer rely on that firewall, as hospital executives in Texas and Florida will tell you. The unions are coming. They're bigger and better organized than ever before, and the wind is at their back. Are you ready?

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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