California Leads Nation in Nurse Organization Trend
California "is leading" the national trend of nurses joining unions, the Los Angeles Times reports. Of the state's 130,000 active registered nurses, 41% are unionized, up from 34% in 1995, according to Census Bureau figures. In the last year, the number of unionized nurses increased 6%, and last month, more than 2,000 nurses at seven hospitals joined the California Nurses Association. Rose Ann DeMoro, CNA's executive director, said that California is "ground zero" in the nurse unionization movement because of the state's significant nursing shortage and "heavy cost-cutting under managed care." Steve Trossman, spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union, added that nurses are prompted to organize because of "burnout from working too many hours, having too many patients and being assigned to units for which they are not trained." In the "rush" to attract nurses, CNA and SEIU are "locked in rivalry" and have "butted heads," the Times reports.
Although the unions have made some progress -- California became the first state to mandate minimum hospital nurse staffing ratios mainly because of union efforts -- hospitals say that unions could be "overestimating their ability to solve health industry problems," the Times reports. Jan Emerson, spokesperson for the California Healthcare Association, said that unions "are no more equipped to turn things around than anyone else" in California, where the nursing shortage is severe. Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Health Care Association of Southern California, added, "Unless unions can produce more nurses ... I'm not sure they are going to do any better at solving the problem. The nursing shortage is our No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 priorities." He added, "I haven't seen any (constructive) action coming from organized unions about the nursing shortage other than to blame hospitals for it" (Rhone, Los Angeles Times, 5/22).