A Nursing Union “Gets It”

by | Aug 11, 2011

A Nursing Union “Gets It”

Say what you like about unions – and I have no intention of using this platform to blog my thoughts on labor-management relations – but there has been yet another occurrence of a nursing union using their collective power to bring about improvements to staffing levels in the name of “safety.”


Remember when a California nurses union went down this road in the spring? Well now a union in Massachusetts has negotiated “specific staffing guidelines” and limited assignments. And they sacrificed pay rates in the bargaining process to get it!


That is a major statement the union is making! Unions, of course, want to protect their members from being taken advantage of by their employers. In this case, nurses felt so strongly that the hospital was not staffing them appropriately and ultimately affecting their safety in addition to the patients’ safety, according to The Patriot Ledger.


So, putting their money where their mouth is, they agreed to a (short term) pay reduction and pension freeze to get the hospital to agree improve the staffing in the hospital.


I don’t know about you, but I find this absolutely amazing for a couple of reasons.


First – and remember I am not using this platform to discuss the pros & cons of unions – labor unions tend to get headlines over striking for better pay and better working conditions. But in this case, the “better working conditions” were directly tied to staffing AND they actually gave up pay to get the staffing improved.


Second – and maybe I’m just naive – I am very surprised that the hospital itself needed to take on staffing practices as a major point of negotiation in the bargaining process. Dealing with healthcare WFM practices and systems so much, specifically staff scheduling systems, it seems like an obvious area of continuous improvement that needs regular change in order to help the hospital achieve labor productivity balance – labor costs vs. patient care.


Why it took labor negotiations to bring about change is mysterious to me. But maybe there is more than meets the eye – let’s face it: there usually is with labor negotiations – and it is possible that both hospital management and union leadership did the best they could in the situation that existed there.


The best conclusion I can draw from the entire situation is: Don’t let this become a problem for you! “Continuous process improvement” is a very important concept that you should be applying to your scheduling practices. And that applies to both management and staff. Because for both parties, it requires embracing change. Unfortunately, it is not often enough that embracing change is a cultural practice.

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