Nursing Shortage, Nurses’ Dissatisfaction Prompts Increased Union Action Statewide
The state's unionized nurses in the past few months have conducted "informational pickets," threatened strikes and walked off their jobs to demand increased salaries and improved working conditions, the Los Angeles Times reports. Nurses represented by the California Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union have both launched "large-scale organizing drives" and asked for "major" contract improvements as the nation's nursing shortage worsens. Health care industry analysts said that "several issues are coming together at once." Nurses have become "increasingly upset" with working conditions, wages and benefits. In addition, many older nurses "see less need to work, and not enough young ones are being trained to replace them" (Ornstein/Kay, Los Angeles Times, 6/1). Nurses' unions also have raised concerns about the reported $7 billion that hospitals nationwide have spent to hire temporary workers and traveling nurses. According to the unions, hospitals should spend the funds to raise "regular" nurses' wages and improve working conditions. However, Jan Emerson of the California Healthcare Association said that "there's just no way [hospitals are] going to be able to operate in the near term without the use of traveling nurses" (Goldberg, KPBS, 6/3). Emerson added that union nurses have an "advantage" in a nursing shortage. "They can threaten to strike and get some concessions. What they have in their favor is economics of supply and demand," she said (Los Angeles Times, 6/1).
According to Suzanne Gordon, author of "From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public," the hospital industry's "frenetic focus on recruitment -- absent an equally serious commitment to nurse retention" could increase the nation's nursing shortage. Gordon writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that some hospitals have offered as much as $10,000 in signing bonuses for new nurses and $1,000 to $2,000 to nurses who refer other nurses. She adds that some hospitals also cover the cost of moving and living expenses for new nurses. However, according to Gordon, while the "Don Juans of the hospital industry are out seducing a whole new crop of RNs, they are neglecting nurses already on their payrolls." She concludes that recruitment campaigns without retention efforts "is like trying to give a blood transfusion to someone whose bleeding hasn't been stopped. No matter how much new blood is added, the patient will eventually bleed to death" (Gordon, Los Angeles Times, 6/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.