For many workers, the most efficient way to increase their advantage at the bargaining table is by leveraging their collective ability to stop a company from being able to provide a product or service. Nursing unions are no different, as they use this tactic to obtain what they want in their contracts. One big difference between nurses going on strike and assembly line workers, though, is that nursing strikes immediately and negatively affect other people. Without nurses, patients can be in extreme danger. Even if some of the nurses stay to maintain a minimal staff, patients will have to share the already overtaxed nurses with even more people, reducing the ability of each nurse who remains to adequately care for his or her patients.
One way hospitals and other medical facilities can deal with nursing strikes is to hire nurses from staffing companies on a temporary or per diem basis. This is an excellent opportunity for those who find work through the staffing facility, and it is a good option for the hospitals as well as the patients. Even though the nurses who are called in to replace the strike staff will likely cost more than those who are striking, and they may not be familiar with the facility, they will be available for the patients and do have the medical expertise to handle the medical environment they are entering.
During a strike, the hospitals are often willing to go above and beyond their usual offerings in order to bring in labor quickly so they will have less pressure when negotiating with the striking workforce. If the hospitals are able to operate with a full, or almost full, temporary staff, they are better able to work out a deal that is mutually beneficial rather than having to accede to the demands of the striking workers. In addition to a regular salary, they may also offer free travel and housing as well as paid orientation and licensure assistance.
Recently nurses in two states, California and Minnesota, announced plans for strikes. While some are initially only going to strike for one day to make a point, others plan more extended absences. Even a one day reduction in the workforce is detrimental to productivity and the ability of the facility to care for patients. Without the option of a temporary nursing workforce, what would these facilities and their patients do?
I know that, as a potential patient, it makes me feel much safer knowing there are people who are willing to work on a temporary basis while the contract negotiations are going on. While I understand that everyone is entitled to fair wages and good working conditions, it does make me nervous when I hear about nurses refusing to work.
Have you ever participated in a nursing strike? What made you decide to go to that extreme? If you are a temporary or per diem nurse, have you ever worked for a facility that was suffering from a strike? What was that experience like?