The Universal Notebook: Nurses united

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What a shame that just as nurses are finally getting the recognition they deserve for risking their lives to care for us, Maine Medical Center is trying to prevent their nurses from joining a union. MMC has even hired a union-busting firm to “educate” its nurses about the evils of organized labor. 

“As your employer,” MMC informed its nurses, “we are committed to respecting your rights by providing you with factual information about your legal rights. To do this, all MMC nurses will be required to attend training during which they will be educated on their individual rights to help them decide if they want a union to speak for them.”

The irony is not lost here. MMC is telling nurses they can think for themselves and to prove it they will be required to attend training classes to tell them so. If you don’t have a union speaking for you, you don’t have anyone speaking for you. You just have the bosses and the union-busters bullying you into doing what they want you to do.

Reliant Labor Consultants, the anti-union company MMC has hired, is run by a guy named Joe Brock, who was a Teamsters union boss before he discovered he could make more money as a professional scab. Brock was one of the anti-labor organizers brought in by Donald Trump to keep unions out of his casinos.

Let me make it clear. I am pro-union. My father was a union man. He belonged to two merchant marine unions. My father-in-law was a union man. He belonged to a railroad union. One of my brothers-in-law was also a union man. He belonged to the longshoreman’s union and to the machinists’ union at BIW.

The reason merchant marine jobs are good jobs is unions. The reason railroad jobs used to be good jobs is unions. Steelworkers? Unions. Automakers? Unions. Letter carriers? Unions. Papermakers? Unions. Longshoremen? Unions. Shipbuilders? Unions.

The wages, benefits, and working conditions of all American workers have been improved, directly or indirectly, by labor unions. Collective bargaining helps balance the scales between labor and management. MMC nurses are being told that their relationship with management will go from collaborative to adversarial if they join a union, but nurses working back-to-back 12-hour shifts who see their patient caseloads increasing know that’s just hospital happy talk. 

I have a relative in another state who belongs to a nurses union that is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the group helping the Maine State Nurses Association organize MMC nurses. 

“In the end, a union is really important but only if it’s the right one and strong, otherwise it’s pretty meaningless,” she told me. “I don’t think they are necessary if management is proactive and progressive but that is normally not the case and can’t be relied upon. In my opinion nurse unions lead to better patient care outcomes in the end and better nurse satisfaction.”

The Maine State Nurses Association has 2,000 members. It would be immeasurably stronger and more effective if MMC’s 1,600 nurses were to join.  

Only about 20 percent of American workers belong to a collective bargaining unit. The rest are told by their employers that they don’t need a third party to look out for their welfare. Really? Just to begin with, union nurses earn 20 percent more than non-union nurses.

Twice before, MMC nurses have voted not to join a union. They may well do so again. But they should not be forced to attend propaganda sessions before they decide once again “for themselves.”

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.