National Nurses United Grows in Troubled Times

Alana Semuels    The Atlantic

Oakland, California. This is the hub of one of the smallest, but most powerful unions in the country. Just 190,000 members strong, National Nurses United is growing while other unions across the country are shrinking. When the autoworkers were agreeing to have some members’ pay cut in half, the nurses fought Arnold Schwarzenegger on patient-to-staff ratios—and won. While public employee unions in states like Michigan and Wisconsin were getting decimated by laws restricting their collective-bargaining rights, the nurses were pushing bills in the California legislature that eventually became law.

National Nurses United may be proof that unions are not all on their way out: Some are very much alive, although they may look a little bit different than they used to.

“Nurses United is among the most innovative and bold of U.S. unions,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at Berkeley. They’ve emerged as a powerful voice in defense of people who receive health care treatment.

Last year, 14.5 million workers were members of unions, that’s about 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, by comparison, there were 17.7 million union workers, or about 20.1 percent of workers.

Yet the nurses have organized 20,000 new nurses in 50 new hospitals since 2009. Some of those new nurses are in right-to-work states such as Texas, where just 4.8 percent of workers are represented by unions. In California, 16.4 percent of workers are unionized.

Read the entire piece from the Atlantic.

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