What to know now about healthcare and unions

Union activity and negotiations between unions and hospitals continue to be prevalent as issues such as pay, staffing and working conditions are center stage at the bargaining table.

With this in mind, Becker's has put together a collection of information on largest healthcare unions, largest strikes, longest strikes, and trends in union activity.

Here are eight things to know about healthcare and unions: 

1. Last year, 7.4 million employees in the private sector belonged to unions, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Jan. 23. This included 1.3 million employees within healthcare and social assistance. 

2. Across the nation's workforce, the union membership rate —the percentage of wage and salary workers who were union members — was 10% in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate was 6.9% in the healthcare and social assistance sector last year, an increase from 6.6% in 2022.

3. SEIU Healthcare, the healthcare arm of the Service Employees International Union, describes itself as the largest healthcare union in North America. The union has more than 1.1 million members in 29 states and two countries, according to its website.

4. National Nurses United describes itself as the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in U.S. history. The union has nearly 225,000 members nationwide, according to its website

5. A strike by Kaiser Permanente workers in multiple states concluded Oct. 7. More than 75,000 workers began a three-day strike Oct. 4 at Kaiser hospitals and medical office buildings in California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, and a one-day strike in Virginia and the District of Columbia. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions deemed the strike as the largest healthcare worker strike in the U.S.

6. Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., ended a 301-day strike in January 2022. It was the longest nurses' strike in Massachusetts history, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The union also described it as the longest nurses' strike the United States had seen in more than 15 years.

7. Overall, there have been at least 123 strikes involving workers in the healthcare and social assistance sector since January 2021, according to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations' labor action tracker. This includes 50 strikes in 2023, an increase from 39 in 2022. 

8. Nurses and other workers at hospitals and health systems have also secured large raises and other contract asks recently amid negotiations with unions. Click here for a breakdown of some of the latest raises. 

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