4 of the most powerful national healthcare unions

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Unions are a major force for change in the healthcare industry, representing a majority of healthcare workers in disputes with their employers.

The following four unions have been especially active in recent negotiations with healthcare employers.

1. SEIU United Healthcare East
About the Union: SEIU East serves nearly 400,000 members and primarily represents healthcare workers including those in homecare, hospitals, nursing home industries, pharmacies, freestanding clinics and other healthcare settings. SEIU East serves the states of New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Recent Conflict: The 1199 Service Employees International Union Healthcare Workers East recently represented several different groups of employees in rallies, pickets and strikes.  

At Baltimore, Md.-based Johns Hopkins Hospital, roughly 2,000 employees rallied in May for higher wages and better benefits, according to a report by The Baltimore Sun. The large rally came a month after employees represented by 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East went on a three-day strike in April after they failed to reach an agreement.

The 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East authorized a second strike after "disappointing" offers were made by Johns Hopkins Hospital. This time, the four-day strike will begin June 27 if no significant progress is made during negotiations.

In the New York City area, thousands of nurses and caregivers picketed at more than 100 healthcare facilities June 18 in the midst of contract negotiations with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes — an employer group that represents 109 private hospitals, nursing homes and other clinics in the area and acts as the bargaining agent in labor contracts.

In Massachusetts, employees at the Melrose-Wakefield (Massachusetts) Hospital held an informational picket in April over an ongoing contract negotiation between 1199 SEIU and the hospital. The union said hospital officials proposed a "two-track" wage and benefit system and attempted to "extract concessions specifically from lower-paid workers who are newer to the hospital."

In May, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania went on a one-day strike to protest what workers deemed unfair labor practices. The union issued the strike notice after rejecting the hospital's "last, best and final" contract offer earlier in April. According to a We Are Central PA report, the union said the hospital was proposing a lower pay scale for its members. SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania employees later reached a two-year agreement with the hospital June 9.

 2. National Nurses United
About the Union: Founded in 2009, NNU has close to 185,000 members across all states, making it the largest union and professional association of registered nurses.

Recent Conflict: In May, nurses represented by NNU finally reached a three-year contract agreement with Lexington, Ky.-based Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals after considering a strike.

During the negotiations, registered nurses at two hospitals operated by ARH — Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard, Ky., and Beckley (W.Va.) Appalachian Regional Hospital — set a one-day strike for May 1. According to the union, the nurses planned to strike in protest of the extension of a wage freeze, cuts in health coverage and unsafe workloads. The agreement was placed in effect immediately to avoid any strike or further conflict.

Also, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, affiliated with NNU, announced in June that it received more than double the required signatures for two ballot initiatives that could potentially affect Massachusetts-area hospitals. One has already been signed into a law.

A measure appearing on the state ballot in November, dubbed the Patient Safety Act, would set a maximum number of patients assigned to each nurse in a hospital. The MNA reached an agreement with Massachusetts lawmakers earlier this summer when Governor Deval Patrick signed into law that sets patient-nurse ratios in all hospital intensive care units.

The MNA is still pushing for its Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness Act, which would require hospitals receiving any tax dollars to provide financial documents on profits and CEO compensation and would also give excess funding to hospitals serving poorer populations. 

The MNA has made its position in the hospital reform debate clear through various means. For instance, the union created a television and radio commercial campaign that attacks what it calls "excessive compensation packages" for hospital CEOs and accuses them of stashing millions of dollars in offshore bank accounts

3. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL CIO)
About the Union:
The AFL CIO is an umbrella federation for 56 U.S. unions, representing around 12.5 million men and women.

Recent Conflict: The District of Columbia Nurses Association, a subsidiary of AFL CIO, and affiliate of NNU and the Washington Metropolitan Council, held an informational picket April 10 outside 482-bed Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., after the hospital issued workforce proposals that included nursing staff reductions. As of May, the hospital had not implemented the layoff plan.

The union, said the proposed cuts would "result in unnecessary chaos within the hospital and would compromise the quality of care to patients," according to a statement.

4. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
About the Union: The UFCW is made up of 1.3 million working people in the United States and Canada. The union supports full- and part-time workers that belong to more than 400 local unions. The UFCW primarily represents workers in grocery and retail stores and healthcare.

Recent Conflict: In June, workers at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, Wash., represented by UFCW Local 21, voted to reject the hospital's contract proposal and authorize a one-day strike on June 16. The strike approval vote garnered strong support, with 88 percent of workers voting in favor of a strike. Though a strike had been approved, no 10-day strike notice had been issued. Mediation continued June 17 and 18 and on June 19, UFCW 21 reached a tentative agreement with Harrison Medical Center. During the subsequent meetings of June 26 and 27, the union approved a new "mutually beneficial" contract with a 98 percent vote.

More Articles on Healthcare Unions:
National Nurses' Union Calls for End of EHR Incentive Program
Chestnut Hill Hospital, SEIU Reach Contract Agreement
Nurses Nix Unionization at Sutter's Memorial Medical Center

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