While overall union membership nationwide has dropped to 15.3 million (12.3 percent of all U.S. workers) in 2009 from a high of 21 million (24.1 percent of workers) in 1979, union membership among healthcare workers is on a slight up-swing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth is driven largely by unionization among registered nurses and other nonphysician categories.
In 2000, some 693,000 healthcare workers (about 12.9 percent) were union members. Last year that number rose to 962,000 (13.6 percent). Early indications for 2010 suggest the growth trend will continue. On January 14, RNs at MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas voted to unionize. Unionization is predominant in hospital settings and has little foothold in physician offices.
Healthcare unions are also consolidating to gain more power. In December, the California Nurses Association, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and United American Nurses merged to become National Nurses United, the largest RN union in the nation at 150,000 members.
However, money doesn't appear to be the primary motivator for unionization. In 2009, union employees overall were paid 27.9 percent more money per week than nonunion employees, but unionized healthcare workers made only 14.3 percent more than their nonunionized brethren, says the BLS.