Labor

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Note from the editor

Healthcare workers caught a breath this spring when COVID-19 cases fell and vaccination efforts started off strong, but the delta variant is again stressing hospitals and workers, further exacerbating burnout and leading some to consider leaving their roles.

Hospitals need nurses so desparately they're offering massive sign-on bonuses and staffing firms say open positions for both temporary and permanent nursing roles are at all-time highs, commanding record rates for contract labor.

It's unclear when demand will abate, especially as patients continue delaying non-emergency care that they will eventually need, and as mental and behavioral health conditions worsen across the population.

But the pandemic is also helping some healthcare workers and the labor unions representing them win better working conditions through contract deals that they say will help attract and retain needed staff.

National Nurses United, the country's largest nurses union, reached a number of deals this summer negotiating new contracts for thousands of members at HCA Healthcare and Dignity hospitals. And New York state in June passed a safe staffing law long advocated for by nurses and nursing unions, though it fell short of hard nurse to patient ratios. 

Some have been less successful though, like the hundreds of nurses at Tenet's Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, who have been on strike since March 8 over stricter staffing measures they want in their next contract.

The pandemic surely isn't over yet, and as new variants pose upcoming challenges to recouping last year's lost revenues, hospitals will have to adapt and make sure they're able to recruit and retain sustainable workforces.

Hailey Mensik

Are recent labor actions getting nursing unions what they want?

While nurses in Cook County, Illinois, struck a deal in recent days, those on a three-month-plus strike against a Tenet hospital in Massachusetts plan a protest at the chain's Dallas headquarters

• Published July 7, 2021

Hospitals, nurses tussle in contract negotiations as pandemic highlights complaints

After a tumultuous year, many big health systems turned profits while taking in federal bailout funds — a theme unions are highlighting in their campaigns.

• Published June 24, 2021 • Updated July 13, 2021

New York passes safe staffing law for hospitals, nursing homes

• Published June 22, 2021

NNU tees up fight amid HCA, Sutter, CommonSpirit contract talks: 'Put patients before profits'

Employment contracts covering tens of thousands of unionized nurses at the country's biggest health systems expire this summer, and labor unions are using the pandemic as a rallying cry for reforms.

• Published June 14, 2021

Tenet hospital hiring some replacement nurses permanently 11 weeks into strike

Roughly 800 nurses began the work stoppage March 8 over staffing issues they want addressed in their next contract.

• Published May 17, 2021

National Nurses United President Deborah Burger on how COVID-19 has affected union efforts

The organizer reflected on nurses' experiences over the past year on the front lines, and outlined where the union is headed going forward.

• Published May 10, 2021

Pandemic spurs more nurses to consider leaving their roles, McKinsey report finds

• Published May 6, 2021

State lawmakers mull out-of-state nurse licenses after pandemic rollbacks

Many tried to join the Nurse Licensure Compact earlier, "But COVID was a kind of glaring example of how the compact could help," Rebecca Fotsch at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing said.

• Published May 4, 2021

Burnout, delta variant boost demand for traveling nurses again

• Published Aug. 18, 2021

The latest in labor trends of frontline workers

Strikes among healthcare workers aren't new, but the first year of the pandemic brought a new wave of protests from frontline workers across the country. As the global pandemic persists, hospital employers are finding ways to meet the several demands from national nurse unions.

included in this trendline
  • Are recent labor actions getting nursing unions what they want?
  • Hospitals, nurses tussle in contract negotiations as pandemic highlights complaints
  • Tenet hospital hiring some replacement nurses permanently 11 weeks into strike
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide Savenije Editor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.