March 24th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Thomas P. Glynn, III is quoted as saying that  "we prefer to handle labor-relations privately" (Boston Hospitals gird for a possible union organizing drive, Boston Globe, March 24, 2006: C1, C7).

I can think of two arguments for taking that position. The reasonable argument is that sometimes Unions prevent the employer deploying staff in a flexible manner depending on the work requirements. Sometimes this resistance is reasonable as when employers, in cost cutting moves, try to reduce staffing levels to dangerously low levels but at other times it is not, as when employers try to develop multi-skilling opportunities for their employees and pay for those increased skills.

The unreasonable argument is to ensure that the employer can maintain its power over employees, dealing with them in an hierarchical command and control manner with a minimum of accountability for its actions. For management to take this view is especially unacceptable in a hospital setting where feedback on patient conditions can often come from the lowest level of employee.

I wonder which of these perspectives Mr. Glynn takes.

Going on to the larger issue, I think it is a mistake for Hospitals to resist Unionization. They should be embracing the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialog with the Unions that will benefit patients, employees, and patients.  Yes, Unions sometimes act in a bloody-minded fashion as the Yale case indicates but that followed years of resistance to Unionization by hospital management.

It is a truism of labor relations that management get the Unions they deserve. Resistance to Unionization may create difficulty, embracing Unionization will not.