Joining Together for a Voice


It’s about working together instead of going it alone.

Healthcare is changing. A growing number of us who work in healthcare are concerned that many of these changes – including staff cutbacks, budget reductions, and more managed care red tape – are making it harder for us to provide high quality patient care and a secure future for our families.

There is a better way – a healthcare employees’ union. When decisions are made that affect our patients and our jobs, it’s important that the employees who do the work have a say in making those changes.

Hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers have decided that to make sure we are heard on the job, we need to speak with a united voice. To do that, we’ve formed a union -– an independent organization created by employees to advocate for our common interests.

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Questions about joining?

FAQ: Joining SEIU Healthcare 1199NW

Here are some answers to questions that healthcare workers commonly have about forming union:

  • How does forming a union improve employees’ relationship with management?
  • How does a union contract give employees a voice?
  • How do employees negotiate a contract?
  • What kinds of improvements have healthcare workers won by joining together in a union?
  • Other than negotiating a contract, how else do SEIU healthcare workers gain a voice on the job?
  • Why should we join SEIU Healthcare 1199NW?
  • How much are dues? What do they pay for?
  • Who makes the decisions in the union?
  • What is the advantage of having many types of healthcare employees in one organization?
  • How do we form a union where I work?
  • How will management react if we try to form a union?

How does forming a union improve employees’ relationship with management?

Without a union, managers control decisions about workplace policies, pay, and benefits. Sometimes they ask for employee input, but major decisions are made by management alone.

Employees can to try to make their view heard as individuals, but a single voice isn’t very powerful. By joining together to form a union, employees speak with a collective voice about their issues and concerns.

When employees work together in a union, they sit down with management to negotiate a common understanding about policies and issues at work. Having a union improves dialogue between management and employees by creating an environment of mutual respect.

How does a union contract give employees a voice?

A contract is an agreement between employees and management that spells out clear policies on issues like:

  • Wages
  • Pay raises
  • Differentials
  • Certification pay
  • Healthcare benefits
  • Vacation
  • Longevity pay
  • Sick leave
  • Scheduling
  • Retirement
  • Training
  • Workplace safety

One big advantage to having a contract is that it includes legally-binding guarantees. Once management agrees to provide raises or a certain amount of vacation time, it can’t take away a scheduled pay increase or make changes in vacation policies without getting employees’ approval.

How do employees negotiate a contract?

Negotiating a contract is a participatory, democratic process — every employee has a role to play.

Employees elect a team of co-workers from across the facility to represent them in negotiations with management. The team puts together a bargaining proposal based on input from surveys and meetings with employees across the hospital or clinic.

The bargaining team – with support from legal and negotiating experts from the union – meets with management over a period of time to reach an agreement on the issues.

Employees then have the final say. Once a tentative agreement with management is reached, employees have a chance to review it and ask questions. Then a vote is held — no contract can be accepted unless a majority of your co-workers vote to approve.

What kinds of improvements have healthcare workers won by joining together in a union?

Having a real voice has allowed thousands of SEIU members to make our jobs better:

Improved pay. People don’t work in healthcare to get wealthy – most of us enjoy helping others get well. But it’s important that our industry pays competitive salaries that attract talented staff and provides an incentive for experienced employees to stay in healthcare.

Longevity steps. SEIU healthcare workers have won longevity steps – guaranteed raises based on years of service – to help reward skilled employees for their experience. Longevity steps provide people with an incentive to stay at the facility – helping create a stable, experienced staff of dedicated employees.

Secure benefits. Our family members get sick just like every one else’s, so we care about making sure we can we have affordable quality care for ourselves and our families.

Reasonable time off. Protecting adequate vacation and sick leave allows healthcare employees to stay healthy and spend time with our friends and families. SEIU members have also won protections against excessive mandatory overtime and other solutions on scheduling issues.

Better patient care. Patient care improves when employees have a voice in decision-making at the hospital. Frontline caregivers know better than anyone how to improve care and services for patients, and having a union creates a more effective way for us to give our input.

Flexibility. Having a union creates an environment where employees and managers are accustomed to solving problems together. A relationship of mutual respect between management and employees allows us to raise questions about patient care and other issues. The result is that employees have much more flexibility when it comes to improving the work environment.

Other than negotiating a contract, how else do SEIU healthcare workers gain a voice on the job?

Having a union allows healthcare workers to create new avenues of communication between employees and management, like:

Union-management committees. Most SEIU contracts create committees that allow employees to sit down with management to solve problems as they come up. Many contracts set up special committees that focus on a particular issue – such as staffing – that employees want to have an ongoing voice about.

A fair system for resolving differences. SEIU contracts also create a “grievance procedure.” An employee who has a disagreement with a management decision can turn to an appeal process, As part of this process, a neutral third party can be called in hear both sides’ opinions and issue a binding decision.

Why should we join SEIU Healthcare 1199NW?

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is Washington State’s strongest healthcare union, with over 22,000 healthcare workers standing together for quality care and quality careers.

Who is SEIU?

As members of SEIU – the Service Employees International Union – we’re also able to draw on the combined strength of healthcare workers across the country. SEIU is an organization of 2.2 million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.

SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. Focused on uniting workers in three sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide, SEIU is:

  • The largest healthcare union, with more than 1.1 million members in the field, including nurses, LPNs, doctors, lab technicians, nursing home workers, and home care workers.
  • The largest property services union, with 225,000 members in the building cleaning and security industries, including janitors, security officers, superintendents, maintenance workers, window cleaners, and doormen and women.
  • The second largest public services union, with more than 1 million local and state government workers, public school employees, bus drivers, and child care providers.

Having so many healthcare employees united together has made SEIU a powerful advocate for healthcare workers in Olympia and Washington, DC.

How much are dues? What do they pay for?

Dues pay the costs of building an effective organization, including our education and training programs, negotiating expenses, newsletters, office expenses, and salaries for officers and a full-time staff who provide research, organizing, communications, and legal support for the union.

Dues are 1.8 percent of your gross monthly pay, with a cap of $90/month.

Employees don’t pay dues until coworkers have negotiated and a majority of coworkers have voted to approve their first contract.

Employees who are at a facility organizing the union for the first time, and hired prior to the signing of an initial collective bargaining agreement, will not be required to pay an initiation fee. For employees hired after the union is formed, there is a one-time $30 initiation fee. (Under state law, employees at state facilities don’t pay the fee.)

Dues cannot be increased unless a majority votes to approve a change.

Who makes the decisions in the union?

The members do. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is run by members through a strong democratic process. Members elect our own worksite leaders, a union-wide executive board, and our local union officers. We vote to approve our contracts, our dues structure, and all other major decisions in our organization.

What is the advantage of having many types of healthcare employees in one organization?

Most healthcare jobs are team-based, and patient care quality improves when every part of the team is strong. Cutbacks and staffing shortages in one department or job classification can ripple across the facility and weaken care and services for patients in other units. It’s important that employees speak with a united voice about our problems and concerns.

Having a united organization for everyone allows employees to make sure that every part of the patient care team has a voice in making decisions about the future of their facility.

How do we form a union where I work?

The first step is for employees to form a committee to share information with co-workers about forming a union. The committee then leads a campaign to gather a majority of employees’ signatures on cards or petitions to show support for forming a union.

Once a majority has signed on to show they want to form a union, employees can ask their management to recognize the will of the majority and agree to open negotiations for a contract.

Or, employees can ask to hold a secret ballot election to vote to officially form a union.

How will management react if we try to form a union?

Most employers are used to having the power to make decisions without employee input. It’s typical for employers to be hesitant about opening up decision-making to employee involvement.

But it’s important to remember that forming a union will improve patient care and employee-management relations in the long run. Every employee has the right to help form a union. Ultimately, the decision about forming a union is made by employees, not managers.

Frequently, the management of a hospital will claim that a union is a “third party” that will divide employees from the hospital. But the reality is that forming a union allows employees to build a clearer line of communication directly to the key decision-makers in management.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW

15 S. Grady Way, Suite 200 Renton, WA 98057 | 425-917-1199
Paid for in part by SEIU COPE, with voluntary contributions from SEIU members and their families. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.