Employers Should Be Prepared For Heightened Recruiting

Organized labor has a new target in sight - the healthcare industry - and it has begun using creative ways to make an initial contact and to identify individuals who might be receptive to the union's message. Contacts have focused on social activism, legislative efforts, and improving the quality of patient care, although these issues may not be the union's true organizing objective.

The most recent example of this strategy comes from the California Nurses Association (CNA) and their "national union," the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC). In what has become the standard operating procedure for the unions targeting healthcare workers, CNA has purchased state-by-state name and home address information for licensed health care professionals (predominantly registered nurses or RNs) in certain states. The union then typically uses this information to mail written communications to hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers nationwide.

Coordinating with the premiere of Michael Moore's new movie "Sicko," CNA's most recent mailing invites recipients to join the fight for healthcare reform - CNA supports guaranteed universal, single-payer healthcare based on the Medicare model - by completing and returning the attached postcard. The postcard again asks for the worker's home contact information and the name of the "Hospital/Facility" at which he or she works. The stated goal of the communication is to recruit RNs to host screenings of the movie.

While it is too soon to determine how CNA will follow-up on any completed "Sicko" postcards they receive, their conduct in past cases may provide a good indication. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the CNA sent a national mailing inviting licensed healthcare professionals to join an emergency response effort called the "RN Response Network" or "RNRN." Their message: Join us and the next time we face a major national disaster like Katrina, you will receive a call to be a part of our volunteer response team. Individuals who responded received a follow up communication from CNA espousing the virtues of unionization and asking if there were any issues at that individual's workplace with which the union could help.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is also pursuing a similar national mailing effort. Like the CNA, the SEIU's communications are often not clearly about classic union organizing issues, and in the past have not even identified the SEIU but rather their legislative arm called the Nurse Alliance. Other topics for these communications include mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, limits on mandatory overtime, whistleblower protection for nurses who advocate for quality care, floating guidelines, patient lifting regulations, labor-management patient care committee concepts, and transparency regulations (which would require hospitals to disclose their staffing standards). While the unions may genuinely support these initiatives, it is likely that the reforms are secondary to the union's goal of organizing healthcare workers.

As a result, healthcare employers should ensure that employees have the information they need to make an informed decision about responding to these union communications. For example, employees need to clearly understand that these organizations are labor unions and not professional associations. They organize employees, they bargain and they strike (yes, even in healthcare). Their primary agenda is to unionize healthcare workers.

When employees reply to these communications, the typical follow-up is union organizing propaganda. At the very least, a response will place the employee's name on the union's target mailing list for all future correspondence and may lead to home phone calls, and perhaps even a home visit, from the union.

Healthcare employers should take this opportunity to inform employees about their position on unions and to provide them with a balanced response to the union's topical message for reform. With the quantity of information being received by healthcare workers from unions today, there is simply no reason not to openly discuss these creative organizing tactics and messages with employees.