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Why do nurses join unions?


Since the advent of managed care and the rise of corporate healthcare, nurses have been joining unions in record numbers. Why? Because alone, nurses have little ability to be effective advocates for our patients or profession when working for giant health systems. All the decision-making power is held by executives in the boardroom, rather than nurses at the bedside. As a union, nurses at a workplace unite and use our strength together to hold management accountable. Who better than nurses to speak out for nursing and quality patient care?

Hear directly from frontline nurses about why thousands of RNs across the country are voting to join SEIU

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Have nurses won improvements after joining SEIU?


Yes, over 85,000 nurses belong to SEIU across the country, including 800 here in Madison, and thousands more are voting to join every year. Why? Because when nurses unite in SEIU, we are able to share decision-making power with management and ensure our priorities are addressed. Union nurses are consistently able to win substantial, concrete improvements, and to stop cuts that can negatively impact us and our patients.


How will UW RNs get recognized as a union?


Right now, the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority Board could voluntarily recognize nurses as a union and start negotiating a contract. That is completely permissible under current law, and a majority of nurses expressed our support for forming a union over a year and a half ago. When enough nurses get active and speak out, together with our elected leaders and community allies, we believe the Board will be compelled to recognize our union voice. 

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What are the next steps after we form our union?


Nurses fill out surveys to determine our priorities for our contract negotiations.

We elect a representative “negotiating committee” of nurses from across the hospital and all shifts to represent us in contract bargaining, along with specialized union staff.

We request vital information from the administration, including hospital finances, to inform our proposals. 

We sit down together with upper management and negotiate over staffing, benefits, compensation, scheduling, continuing education and all other work issues that matter to us. We encourage all nurses to join us as observers. 

When the negotiating committee believes we have achieved a fair contract, all nurse members vote on whether to approve the contract before it can take effect. 

Once approved, nurses are trained to implement and enforce the standards in the  contract. To help with that process, we elect RN colleagues called “stewards” who are trained to solve problems on the job and file official grievances when necessary.


Does UW Health have the resources to make improvements?


Yes, absolutely, UW Health is very financially healthy. From just July, 2020 to May, 2021, UW Health had more than $425 MILLION in profits, according to their own reporting. UW Health has more than enough resources to sit down with nurses and make substantial improvements to staffing, continuing education, healthcare and retirement benefits, and compensation which recruits and retains qualified staff. As an independent union of nurses, we can insist our priorities are funded, alongside those of management. And they received over $68 MILLION in taxpayer bailouts through the Coronavirus Act.


Can the UWHCA Board legally recognize our union, and can we negotiate a contract with them?


Yes and Yes! The foremost labor attorneys in Wisconsin have thoroughly examined the law and confirmed that the UWHCA Board can immediately recognize nurses as a union and begin negotiating a contract. There is nothing whatsoever in any law that prevents it.


Is the union a “third party”?


SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin is a union of, by and for healthcare professionals, and all the major decisions are made by members. If we join SEIU, nurses would elect our colleagues to negotiate contracts, we would vote on all our contracts, and we would elect RN coworkers to represent us at work if we believe our rights have been violated or we are being treated unfairly.

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With a union, will I still be able to talk directly to my manager?


Of course! Union members maintain good working relationships and communication with managers. Nurses find that forming a union with SEIU greatly enhances communication with management, because RNs are able to sit down as equals with administrators and improve patient care by addressing issues related to staffing, benefits, scheduling, workplace safety and recruitment and retention. Also, we would have a clear, written contract that everyone can refer to and follow.

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What are dues?


When UW Health nurses had our union, monthly dues were 2 times the base hourly rate of pay multiplied by an employee’s FTE (which for full-time employees is 1, and for half-time employees is .5). Per diem employees’ FTE was calculated based on hours actually worked. While membership is not required, all nurses are encouraged to become members and contribute dues, and also their time. The more members who contribute dues, the more powerful nurses are at work, and the more resources RNs have to win the highest contract standards. As with all major decisions in SEIU, the amount of dues is decided by the overall membership. Nurses do not start paying dues until after voting to approve a first union contract and signing a membership card. 


What about strikes?


Strikes are rare in the healthcare industry, and there are many other ways for healthcare workers to hold employers accountable. No one can force nurses to go on strike; like all major decisions in SEIU, a strike can only be decided by a majority vote of members in a workplace. In the unlikely event a strike is called, a minimum 10-day notice is given to the hospital to ensure continuity and quality of patient care.


Does the union spend dues on political candidates?


No. It is illegal to contribute dues dollars to a politician, and so SEIU has a separate, voluntary fund to support candidates that members endorse. These days, nurses need to be advocates both in our hospitals and also at city hall, the state capitol and in Washington, D.C. So many decisions about healthcare are made by the government, from funding for our hospitals, to scope of practice, licensure, staffing levels, and patient and nurse safety. That’s why hospital employers invest heavily in lobbying and politics, so their interests are addressed. As patient advocates, nurses cannot afford to sit out politics on the sidelines.