What is a union?

A union is a forum to advocate for what we need, participate democratically in our workplace, and organize mutual aid.

A labor union is a legally certified organization that has the exclusive right to collectively bargain contracts on behalf of a group of employees at a workplace. They are sometimes called “Collective Bargaining Agents,” and the contracts are sometimes called “Collective Bargaining Agreements.” The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 guarantees employees the right to unionize, collectively bargain for fair wages, and take collective action. The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board, which is responsible for prosecuting labor violations and overseeing the process of union representation.

Labor unions put workers on equal footing with management. As individuals, workers have relatively little power in the employer-employee relationship, but as a group, they have more leverage. Labor unions are also valuable to the country as a whole—economically and politically. A 2017 report from the Economic Policy Institute found that unions strengthen democracy, reduce inequality, raise wages for both union and non-union workers, raise wages for women, and lessen racial wealth gaps. However, corporate lobbyists and politicians have sought to erode the power of labor unions in the private sector by passing laws that allow workers to access the benefits of union negotiations without being a member of the union or paying any dues. Dubiously dubbed ‘right-to-work’ laws, as they provide no guarantee of employment, these laws seek to weaken unions by drawing funding and membership away from them. Not surprisingly, wages are 3.1% lower in states with these laws.

This is not just about McLean. It's also about Mass General Brigham.

Mass General Brigham has an innate conflict of interest by being a healthcare monopoly, particularly one that has a controlling market share of the healthcare industry in New England and owns a health insurance company, AllWays Health Partners. MGB's control over the healthcare market is why the pay and benefits employees get, as well as the quality of services our patients get, will inevitably decline. This is always in the nature of a monopoly. 

 

When starting to monopolize, costs for the company are high, as they need to overspend in order to buy out enough of the competition to become a monopoly. So, once monopolization is achieved, profits are prioritized by slashing costs across the board. This is done generally by cutting salaries, benefits, and number of staff. At McLean, this has been done by closing East House, the only adolescent unit, for a more profitable adult unit, increasing mandates, taking away TOWP, and freezing retirement benefits. Many of these changes were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, under the guise of it being a “hard time” for MGB.

 

MGB's efforts to own different parts of the healthcare chain creates a general conflict of interest, as a medical provider’s priority is to treat patients as well and effectively as possible, but any insurance provider is profit driven. What results is a desire to raise profits by having high deductibles, premiums, and out-of-pocket expenses, while keeping costs to a minimum by covering as few medical expenses as possible. This impacts us as employees, since having access to health insurance through our employer means we can’t access MassHealth, and we make just enough to miss qualifying for low-cost or no premiums through MassHealth. MGB does this purposefully so that we are beholden to them as their employees, patients, and insurance customers, leaving us with no leverage or alternative options. When monopolies have existed in the past, they have asserted that they can make things more efficient, or even control prices to make goods and service cheaper. But, as we’ve seen from MGB during this pandemic, they see no value in pretending not to be a monopoly, nor in trying to be ‘beneficial’ to anyone or anything other than their bottom line.

The Role of HR

But isn't HR supposed to help employees negotiate for just compensation and report grievances? Not exactly. Human Resource departments were created in the early 20th century, originally to conduct exit interviews and collect grievances to figure out how their company could better retain employees. In the 1930s (the decade in which the National Labor Relations Act was signed into law) HR began to feel like an advocate for employees, in that they provided a forum for employees to express their grievances. The reason for that, explains Wharton professor Peter Cappelli, was “because companies were trying to keep unions out.” If management knew that workers were unhappy, they could take action to prevent them from unionizing. When union membership began to drop off in the 1980s (mainly due to the long-term effects of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which amended the NLRA to curtail the power of labor unions and enable the passage of ‘right-to-work’ laws), the focus of HR shifted entirely to protecting the company. Namely, HR was concerned with ensuring compliance with new worker protection laws. So, sometimes HR’s goals lined up with the interests of the workers, but the core purpose of the department remains to shield the company from liability, not representing and advocating for employees.

Click here to read the full article: "HR is not there to be your friend. It's there to protect the company."