Union battles, layoff threats make nurses the auto-workers of the 21st century

Just as car manufacturing defined industry in the 20th century, healthcare, which employs one in 10 workers, drives the 21st century, and today's nurses find themselves in the same position as their former auto worker counterparts, according to The Economist.

Nurses, and other lesser trained hospital workers, are most effected by slowed healthcare spending and employment growth, and going forward, pressure on wages will intensify for two reasons, according to the article. First, care is shifting from hospitals to clinics and residential homes, keeping patients with chronic conditions out of the emergency room, which greatly benefits patients and limits hospital spending. However, nursing and staff jobs at clinics and as home health aides pays much less than hospital employment. 

Second, as the federal government limits hospital payments and boosts quality measures, hospitals look to cut spending, and in turn cut labor costs, which generally account for at least half of hospitals' costs, according to the article. Even in the middle of a physician and nurse shortage, hospitals may freeze hiring, wages and benefits, or hire temporary workers through outside agencies. Layoffs are also a threat--last year healthcare layoffs accounted for more workplace dismissals than any other industry but finance, according to the article.

And much like the auto workers' labor movements of the 1900s, healthcare workers' unions fight for security with health systems across the country, demanding better benefits and a clear process to unionize clinic workers, according to the article. 1199SEIU in New York, the country's largest local healthcare union, negotiated only after more than 70,000 workers threatened a one-day strike at the end of July.

In New Mexico, 400 unionized nurses and technicians at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center threatened to strike unless a new contract is ratified before July 31, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. A California nurses' union will begin bargaining negotiations next week with Kaiser Permanente, the eighth largest health system in the country, on a new four-year contract for nurses at its Northern California hospitals, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's The Economist article
- read the New Mexican's article