2011 in Review: Labor activity

Big strikes underscore increased union activity

Topics: Compensation, Labor Expense, Workforce, Benefits, Staffing, Benefits, Labor Expense, Finance, Compensation, Staffing

December 22, 2011

Cassandra Blohowiak, Editor

Labor unions grabbed the headlines again in 2011, after nursing unions in multiple states staged historic strikes and others posted big wins at major hospitals.

Since the recession began, hospitals coast-to-coast—like in the District of Columbia, and Minnesota, and Pennsylvania—have been rocked by labor disputes, and 2011 was no different. For example, more than 23,000 nurses in September picketed at 34 Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health hospitals—the largest nursing strike in U.S. history.

In December, more than 6,000 RNs represented by the New York State Nurses Association said they were preparing to strike at Mount Sinai, Montefiore Medical Center, and St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. Roughly 6,000 nurses represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA) also said they planned to strike on Dec. 22 at roughly 10 California hospitals. 

Unions post big election gains
Meanwhile, health care labor unions have been investing to quickly expand. Department of Labor data show that the CNA increased its spending from $15 million in 2000 to $61 million in 2009.

Unions also have been continuing to win hundreds of elections. Altogther, health care unions in 2010 held 264 elections and won 71% of them. That pace slowed in 2011, as health care unions only held 85 elections across the first half of the year, but they also won 75% of them, according to a report from IRI Consultants and the American Hospital Association.

For example, nearly 10,000 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) workers at 19 Florida-based HCA hospitals approved "landmark agreements" in early December. The contracts included provisions that remove salary caps and create labor-management committees, which will discuss hospital issues like staffing levels and patient safety.

Will unions keep pace in 2012?
The uptick in activity at the end of 2011 suggests that unions will continue waging public battles with hospitals in the New Year. Another factor that could affect activity: the National Labor Relations Board recently approved a revised rule that could accelerate union elections, which experts say could bolster their efforts to organize new members.

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