Do You Have Rights Without a Union?
Many nurses in non-union hospitals assume they have inherent rights as employees to protect them from losing their jobs or from being treated unfairly by their employer. The fact is that, aside from a handful of laws that regulate overtime or protect employees from discrimination based on a protected class (such as race, religion, etc.), nurses in non-union environments are generally considered "at-will" employees. That means they serve at the pleasure of the employer and may be dismissed or unfairly treated at the will of the employer. Most nurses at non-union facilities only become aware of this reality when their employer takes some unfair action against them. That's when nurses realize they need the protection of a union.
Your Right to "Proper or Just Cause"
There are many rights won in ONA contracts. Perhaps the most important, though, is the language that protects nurses from being dismissed or disciplined without "proper cause”. Proper cause requires an employer in all but the most egregious cases to use several progressively more harsh levels of discipline over time in an effort to correct a nurse’s performance or behavior before terminating the nurse. It also requires employers to be consistent in how they discipline employees by not allowing one employee to engage in a particular behavior or practice while disciplining another employee for engaging in the same or similar behavior or practice.
Your Right to ONA Representation
Both ONA contracts and the laws governing employment in a unionized workplace protect your right to ONA representation. ONA-represented nurses have the right to be represented during any questioning about or investigation into their performance or activities as employees. These are known as "Weingarten Rights", after the federal court ruling that established them and these rights are only available to workers who are unionized.
However, a nurse must assert her/his Weingarten Rights by insisting on having an ONA representative present during an investigation because an employer is not required to provide a nurse a representative or even notify the nurse of her/his right to a representative.
In addition, nurses working under one of ONA’s collective bargaining agreements can file a "grievance” asserting that the employer is violating the contract. During the grievance process, a nurse has the right to be represented by ONA in any discussions with the employer. Your right to be represented by ONA in the grievance process includes time to meet with your representative to prepare for the grievance meeting with the employer.
Your Right to be Treated Fairly
ONA contracts establish certain parameters that require the hospital to treat nurses fairly. These include how nurses are paid (the employer must follow the established pay scale and may not discriminate by awarding money to one nurse and not another); how nurses are scheduled (there must be a system of scheduling and time off that is followed for every nurse); and how nurses are held to performance standards (all nurses must be subject to the same standards and may not be disciplined based on subjective criteria that vary from nurse to nurse). There are, of course, many others.
Your Right to Fair and Equal Access to the Benefits in our Contract
There are many employment benefits in the contracts. These can include differentials and premium pay for special work, such as on-call, call back, sixth and consecutive days, mandatory overtime, and many others. You have a right to these benefits and a right to access them in a fair manner. That's why contracts contain language requiring the hospital to follow certain steps before canceling or curtailing scheduled work hours, assignment of overtime, etc.
Please take some time to study your contract and to familiarize yourself with your rights and benefits.
Weingarten Rights Statement
"I request to have a union representative present on my behalf during this meeting because I believe it may lead to disciplinary action being taken against me. If I am denied my right to have a union representative present, I will attend the meeting, but refuse to answer questions that I believe may lead to discipline. (This is my right under a Supreme Court Decision called Weingarten)."