Nursing homes with a unionized workforce were less likely to have COVID-19 deaths when compared to facilities without healthcare worker unions, according to a study in Health Affairs. The findings support other investigations that have linked unions with improved safety and health standards for workers, according to researchers. 

The investigation found that 3.72% of residents died of COVID-19 in unionized nursing homes, while 5.53% of residents died in non-unionized facilities — a 1.29 percentage point difference. The study also noted that the presence of a labor union was associated with a 42% relative decrease in COVID-19 infection rates. 

Researchers used public COVID-19 nursing home mortality data reported by the New York State Department of Health. Overall, 385 nursing homes were included in the department’s report of COVID-19 mortality. The study used a sample of 355 nursing homes. Of those facilities, unions were present in 246 of them. 

The analysis also found that labor unions in facilities were associated with having more access to N95 masks and eye shields. Specifically, they were 13.8% more likely to have access to masks and 7.3% more likely to have access to eye shields. 

However, the study did find the presence of unions  “was not a significant predictor of access to other types of [personal protective equipment]” like gowns, hand sanitizer, gloves and surgical masks. 

“Our finding that unions are associated with reduced COVID-19 mortality rates in nursing homes is consistent with previous findings that unions improve safety and health standards for workers to help to co-enforce those standards with employers, and also reduce workplace injuries and accidental deaths,” investigators Adam Dean, Atheendar Venkataramani and Simeon Kimmel concluded. Dean is an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University; Venkataramani is an assistant professor of health policy at University of Pennsylvania; and Kimmel is an assistant professor at Boston University. 

They added that “more research is needed to understand the numerous mechanisms through which unions may influence COVID-19 mortality rates, such as staff training, reducing use of part-time workers, implementing infection protocols, and giving workers a collective voice in the workplace.”