John O’Connor

Many long-term care providers will happily explain why union representation continues to slide nationwide, and especially in the facilities they operate.

Boiled down, their answers usually amount to something like this: Because there really isn’t an incentive for workers to join them anymore. Thanks to improvements in pay, working conditions and greater management empathy, employees have little reason to pursue collective bargaining. That is, unless they enjoy paying union dues.

To be sure, there is some logic to such reasoning. It’s undeniably true that working conditions at many facilities are now better than ever. But if a new Congressional report is to be believed, the notion that workers would be better off without them is a tough pill to swallow.

Unionized workers actually take home 10% more in wages, according to a report from the U.S. Joint Economic Committee of Congress and the House Labor Committee. The report added that unionized workers are 18.3% more likely to enjoy employer-sponsored health insurance. 

“As this report makes clear, unions help address economic inequality and ensure workers actually see the benefits when the economy grows,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) who chairs the Joint Economic Committee.

The report’s release comes as the Biden administration is pushing hard for greater union participation. Neither of these developments might be called good news for industry operators.

To be sure, this report is hardly a mere exercise in labor theory. Like most things released to the public in Washington, it serves a political purpose. The study was obviously written to lend more credibility to the PRO Act. That bill would make it far easier for workers to join a union. The legislation passed the House last year but appears stalled in the Senate.

It’s a pretty safe bet the measure will never reach the president’s desk. But operators still have plenty to be concerned about, at least when it comes to the future of labor relations.

The obvious top concern should be that even without Congressional action, unionization may become easier — and union-prevention efforts could get more restricted. As we’ve seen, executive orders and the National Labor Relations Board sometimes accomplish what a divided Congress cannot.

Operators should also be concerned that one of the most commonly used arguments against unions — that they really don’t actually help workers — just got shredded.

And who knows where that might lead?

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.