While labor unions didn't break any records for healthcare organizing activity in 2013, both management and union experts think conditions are ripe for a major surge this year.
The driving factors include the National Labor Relations Board likely approving new rules expediting union elections, and healthcare workers feeling greater anxiety over wages and job security due to market and policy pressures to reduce healthcare costs.
“There is a heightened interest among workers whose wages haven't gone up in three or four or five years,” said Kirk Adams, executive vice president for healthcare at the Service Employees International Union, healthcare's largest labor group.
Although union membership in the U.S. overall has steadily dropped since the 1980s, organized labor has found more success organizing in healthcare. About 14% of the workers involved in the delivery of healthcare at public and private facilities are unionized, compared with less than 7% of employees in the private sector as a whole.
The latest data on union activity in healthcare show that for the first 11 months of 2013, there were 185 votes to form a union of hospital workers, with unions winning 68% of those votes, according to NLRB data. That compares with 238 votes in 2012, 72% of which went for the union.