News & Events

Magnet status: the union perspective

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
October 2004 Edition

By Joe Twarog
Associate Director, Labor Education & Training

As union members are confronted with the prospect of their hospital engaging in the expense and the process of the Magnet program, many have asked the MNA if and how this process can and should intersect with the role of the union.

While the MNA’s Board of Directors finalizes its position on this matter, there are some key points to keep in mind. First of all, any program that impacts mployees’ working conditions is a union matter—as a matter of law. Therefore, any attempt to modify the working/practice conditions of nurses; any program that purports to seek and utilize staff nurses input; any program that proposes to change policies and practices to boost retention and recruitment of staff is a union issue.

The union must be directly involved at all stages of discussion that relate to a nurse’s "wages, hours and working conditions" as defined by the National Labor Relations Act. And any changes contemplated must be bargained with the union.

It is important to note that Magnet, regardless of its purported merits and benefits, if implemented without the input of the union and without the rights and enforceability that a union provides, is yet another consultant-driven process that can circumvent the ability of bargaining unit members to define and protect their practice. Like TQM, Patient Focused Care and all other forms of workplace redesign, the danger of these programs is that they can co-opt staff nurses, providing the illusion of participation, and later, having been co-opted, nurses’ participation is used to justify the decisions that are made.

The "participation" most often is another way to control the workforce. Employees enter the process excited and in good faith—expending significant time and effort, only to have their efforts relegated to the level of unenforceable "recommendations."

Union assessment checklist
Here is a check list of questions you might ask (of yourself and the hospital) in considering Magnet from a union members’ perspective.

  1. Will the hospital allow the nurse’s union to select the nurses who will serve on the nurse practice council?
  2. Does Magnet status include a guarantee of safe nurse staffing ratios, a ban on mandatory overtime, inappropriate floating, mandatory on call and other dangerous practices associated with the crisis in nursing care?
  3. Does Magnet status afford you as an employee any input and veto authority in the final decision making power in your workplace?
  4. Are the decisions made by nurse practice councils final and binding or are they simply
    recommendations subject to management’s approval and implementation?
  5. Do you have access to all information and materials (i.e., financial documents, engineering reports, consultant’s studies, vendor contracts, merger or restructuring plans, etc.) to make a decision as does hospital management?
  6. Is the hospital committed to pay all costs and expenses necessary to implement and
    maintain resources identified as necessary by the nurse’s council for quality patient
  7. Are there clearly established timelines that the hospital is committed to for implementing decisions made by the nurse’s council?
  8. Do nurses have full voting rights as equals on decision making boards of the hospital?
  9. Is the hospital willing to sign a legally binding document that guarantees nurses a voice in all decisions impacting their work?
  10. Has the ANCC guaranteed staff nurse input and approval into any changes of the criteria determining Magnet status prior to any modifications?
  11. Are nurses guaranteed a legal right of protection from reprisal for any criticism made of management, within a grievance and arbitration process?
  12. Are nurses guaranteed an economic return in their pay and benefits on savings realized or income gained by the hospital as a result of the “Magnet” designation?