Would Union Elections Help SLU Nurses?
Some SLU nurses seem to be dissatisfied with their union representative recently. In May, a Saint Louis University Hospital nurse filed a federal charge against National Nurses Organizing Committee, a major California-based health care union, for violating workers’ rights.
In the complaint, the nurse alleges that union executives are using illegal dues deduction authorization forms and refusing to provide workers with information about their right to refrain from paying certain fees. This is important because workers have a right to refrain from paying for union political campaigns and other activities that are not directly related to representing workers.
When union fees are automatically withheld from employees’ paychecks without an option to pay for only core union services, employees may be forced to pay for political activities that they do not agree with or benefit from.
SLU nurses also recently held a vote on ending forced union dues. While 22 percent of nurses eligible to vote voted for the measure, 36 percent voted against it, meaning union dues will remain mandatory for SLU nurses.
Between the lawsuit and the vote to end mandatory union fees, it seems that a faction of nurses at SLU hospital are no longer satisfied with the way they are represented. A union exists to give workers a voice before management, but what happens when workers feel they no longer have a say before their own union?
Regular union elections are one answer to the question of how to keep union leaders accountable. In such elections, workers have the opportunity to vote in a secret ballot whether they wish to continue the union’s representation, select another organization to represent them, or forgo formal representation altogether. Such elections have recently been considered by Missouri’s legislature as a way to ensure accountability for public sector workers, but the proposal has not gotten much traction among private sector unions, such as SLU nurses.
Union elections may or may not be the answer for nurses at SLU; however, such elections provide one answer to the question of how to keep organizations democratic and accountable to the people they represent.