My father was a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and worked for General Motors for 45 years. He repaired the sewing machines that sew car upholstery. My dad is deceased, but my 85-year-old mother still benefits from the generous UAW-negotiated benefits package my dad received. Between my mom and dad, sister, brother, and me, General Motors has spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for our medical care and prescriptions. I will be forever grateful. So, as you can imagine, I stayed on top of the news whirlwind that surrounded the demise of the “old” GM. June 1. GM, the icon of industry in America, in bankruptcy. The last nail in the coffin. And while being a mere speck in the magnitude of misery this bankruptcy has wrought for so many people, I felt very sad-for whatever corporate mismanagement went on and for whatever part union demands played over the years in the felling of this corporate monolith.
Being raised in a blue collar, “union” family, I was exposed to the power and influence big, organized unions like the UAW have. I was convinced unions were a good and necessary thing to protect the rights of the little guy from corporate America. Philadelphia shoemakers thought it was a good idea, too, when they started the first labor union in 1794. For many years unions were necessary to protect the rights of men, women, and children who otherwise would have been treated only a little better than slaves.
At their best, unions protect the many from the power and greed of the few. At their worst, they encourage lazy work habits, shoddy products, and corruption. A recent study from Cornell University showed the unionization rate dropped to 12.4% currently from 22% three decades ago. Does this signal America no longer needs unions? I would say “yes” in some industries, “no” in others. Do we need them in long-term care facilities? No, and I'll tell you why. The very core of the long-term care industry is a four-letter word: Care. How seriously do you respect that word? I would hope that at the core of most owners', administrators', and directors' of nursing career choice is your concern about how the most vulnerable members of our society are treated. Isn't a natural extension of that caring making sure your employees are treated well? Last month, attorney Michael Pepperman listed 12 “tools” in an article on how to combat unionization efforts in light of the Employee Free Choice Act being introduced into Congress. I chose 12 words or phrases from those tools that can be powerful antidotes to unionizing efforts: proactive, training, productivity, essential questions, understand value, develop and refine, feedback, communication, position statement, resolution, strategic, respect.
I'm a firm believer in the KISS principle-keep it simple, stupid. Common sense and decency can go a long way in this world of entitlement. If your employees know you care about them and see that care demonstrated in ways that allow them to do their job conscientiously as the trained professionals they are, are paid a fair wage, are treated with honesty and respect, are verbally rewarded frequently, are included in decisions that affect their professional destiny, and are feeling valued, don't you think that would be a powerful unionization deterrent?
After all, isn't that how you'd like to be treated?
Maureen Hrehocik Long-Term Living 2009 July;58(7):8