Illinois Nurses Association
The Nurses' Union
Union FAQs

The healthcare industry is continually evolving. Without formal mechanisms for effective communication and constructive involvement in decision making, nurses lack control and the quality of nursing care suffers. Through binding agreements, you can safeguard employment terms and conditions, and establish effective channels of communication.

  • “Why do RNs need a union?”
  • “Can I be penalized for joining a union?”
  • “What is collective bargaining?”

Q.: “Why do RNs need a union?”

A.: Today more than ever, Registered Nurses need a strong union like INA. Nurse shortages and the rise of healthcare for profit have dramatically changed RNs’ work environments and the demands placed on them. Too many nurses are spending too much time on non-nurse duties. Too many nurses are enduring too much overtime. And too many nurses are working under conditions that are unsafe for themselves and their patients. A strong, unified workforce is the best solution to the problems facing RNs and their patients today. When RNs become members of INA, they gain the ability to negotiate enforceable contracts that spell out specific working conditions such as acceptable nurse-patient ratios, what roles RNs will play in determining standards of care, circumstances under which RNs will agree to work overtime, pay scales, benefits, dependable procedures for scheduling vacations and other time off, and all other conditions important to nurses.

Joining INA also adds your voice to our efforts to enact better laws regulating hospitals and other healthcare environments, and to create government-funded programs to fund and encourage nursing education.

Members at each facility represented by the union form their own on-site team of elected representatives for purposes of collective bargaining and contract enforcement. And INA members have access to ongoing support and excellent training to help them become strong leaders.

Q.: “Can I be penalized for joining a union?”

A.: Many employees, including nurses, are afraid to raise the idea of joining a union. Many people believe they can be fired for trying to unionize. Both state and federal laws guarantee RNs the right to unionize and the right to negotiate an enforceable contract. In fact, it is illegal for your employer to interfere in your efforts to unionize. RNs working for both public and private employers have the right to organize and join a union.

Specifically, as an RN, you have the right to:

  • Organize with your colleagues
  • Select a union to join
  • Negotiate collectively with your employer
  • Enforce your contract through a grievance process spelled out in the contract

Contract violations are not tolerated. INA members’ contracts are enforced by grievance committees formed by their colleagues with professional assistance and training from INA Staff Representatives. Staff Representatives visit member facilities to provide assistance on a regular basis. Organizing your colleagues to join a union takes time, patience, and determination. But it’s worth it. Joining a union gives you a voice in the decision-making process that directly affects you as an employee. Through that organized voice, you can also exert considerable influence over the quality of care you are able to give your patients.

Q: “What is collective bargaining?"

A: The bilateral process whereby the determination of terms and conditions of employment are negotiated between employee representatives and the employer. The administration of said contract is done through grievance, labor/management meetings and other procedures that provide employees a voice. Through collective bargaining, a team of union representatives and members negotiate with an employer, such as a hospital, important terms and conditions of employment. These terms and conditions may include pay scales, benefits, adequate staffing, what roles RNs will play in determining standards of care, circumstances under which RNs will agree to work overtime, dependable procedures for scheduling vacations and other time off, and all other conditions important to nurses. When negotiation is completed and agreement is reach, the terms and conditions are spelled out in a contract. All workers who would be covered under the contract – for example, all RNs employed at a particular hospital – vote on whether or not to ratify the contract. Once a contract has been ratified by a majority of employees, it is a binding agreement. With a contract in place, violations of the working terms and conditions can be addressed through a grievance procedure, through labor-management meetings, and through other avenues, including legally-binding arbitration. Arbitration decisions can be enforced by court orders, if necessary.

Representing nurses in the workplace is our business. Unlike trade unions that represent a wide variety of occupational interests, INA provides the in-depth expertise required to represent RNs. Protecting nurses and nursing interests takes more than knowledge in labor relations. It takes nursing expertise. Only with INA can you have both; INA is the choice of the professional nurse.