NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hospital Unionization Harms the Sick

August 17, 2012

Desperate for new members, nursing unions are exploring new tactics. This push for members has affected both the number of strikes and the proportion of nurses who are unionized. It has also had negative effects on patient care and health care costs. Strikes put many thousands of patients' lives and health at risk, and unionization contributes to increased health care prices, which reduces the availability of health care, say David Bier and Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

While private sector unionization has declined in the United States as a whole for decades, the health care sector has been an exception in recent years.

  • Union employment fell from 24 percent of private sector workers in 1973 to under 7 percent in 2011.
  • Hospital unions have defied this trend by maintaining a workforce presence that is double the national private sector average (14.3 percent).
  • Membership has increased by almost a third over the last decade, from 687,000 in 2000 to 907,000 today.

In the last three years, hospital strikes have risen dramatically. According to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, 2010 saw new health care strikes increase by almost 70 percent over 2009 levels, and last year that number rose by an additional 73 percent. These sharp increases in strikes occurred even though the mere threat of a strike can harm the provision of health care.

The unions claim their members receive insufficient compensation for their crucial work, but the details of their current contracts tell a different story.

  • The average nurse at Northern California's Sutter Health Hospitals, for example, made over $130,000 last year with a pension plan worth $84,000 per year.
  • Non-salary benefits are also generous at Sutter Health -- nurses receive up to 40 paid days off, and most have an option of a 100 percent employer-paid health benefits plan.
  • Temple University nurses made almost $40 an hour when they struck in 2010 -- the equivalent of over $83,000 per year, plus paid vacation and health benefits.

The object for unions isn't patient care or even workers' rights. It's money. Unfortunately, the people who bear the cost of this drive to unionize are the people that most health care workers went into their profession to help.

Source: David Bier and Iain Murray, "Hospital Unionization Harms the Sick," Capital Research Center, August 2012.


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