With job security falling and pro-union Democrats taking positions of power in Washington, the nations hospitals are poised to see a continuation of the wave of union activity that began in 2006, a new report says.
Labor comes on strong
Hospitals expect no let up in latest surge of union activity
The recession caused 2.6 million Americans to lose jobs between November 2008 and February 2009. Yet the number of workers belonging to unions increased by 428,000 last year, with many of the new unions formed in the healthcare sector, according to the 32nd annual Labor Activity in Health Care Report, released by IRI Consultants and the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration of the American Hospital Association.
Within HR circles, this is the topic of conversation like I havent seen before, said Jeffrey Payne, a vice president of ASHHRA and vice president of human resources at 762-bed Lakeland (Fla.) Regional Medical Center. Ive been in healthcare HR for 16 years, and I havent seen it taken this seriously among all my peers, especially the nonunionized hospitals.
Speaking in his capacity with the association, Payne said it was not overly surprising that organized labor activity in healthcare and in the economy at large has increased in recent years. After more than 20 years of decline, there was a sense that union membership had bottomed out at 12% of the workforce in 2006 and was poised to make some gains.
Then again, hospitals are also aware of the unions expectations and many have been stepping up their own efforts to remain union-free, Payne said.
In general, healthcare workers were more likely than the economy at large to successfully form new unions, the study says. In 2008, unions won 75% of the 206 elections for union certification in healthcare. The Service Employees International Union in particular was successful, accounting for nearly half of all healthcare union elections in 2008 and winning 82% of them. Other unions had higher success rates, but far fewer numbers of elections.
New York in particular saw significant gains, with 50 union wins and 11 losses in 2008nearly double its number of new elections from the year before, but the same rate of success. The other states with more than 10 union wins in 2008 were California with 24, Pennsylvania and New Jersey with 12 each and Washington and Massachusetts with 11.
But the study also noted that the raw number of new union petitions in 2008 remained flat from the year before. Organizing efforts were mitigated to some extent by unions focus on support of pro-labor candidates campaigns during the 2008 elections and on the premise that the Employee Free Choice Act will become reality, the study authors wrote (See related story, p. 10).
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