Travel Career Resources

Understanding Nursing & Healthcare Strikes

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN
October 4, 2023
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In the world of healthcare, strikes are events where workers, in this context nurses and allied health professionals, choose to stop working in protest. This is often due to disagreements about work conditions, pay, or other employment terms. They are organized events with the aim to convey workers' concerns to the management and negotiate favorable terms.

Strikes can vary in duration, scale, and impact, but all serve as a reminder of the essential role healthcare professionals play and the importance of addressing their needs and concerns.

For travel nurses and allied health pros, understanding these dynamics is critical, given the possibility of encountering such events while traveling. The type of contract held can dictate one's role and responsibilities during a strike, making it paramount to comprehend its terms. At Trusted Health, we emphasize the safety and choices of our clinicians, offering necessary support while respecting their individual decisions in strike situations.

What is a Nursing Strike?

A nursing strike is a coordinated work stoppage or refusal to work by nurses. It can be a part of broader healthcare worker strikes or specific to the nursing profession.

Nursing strikes have a rich history, tracing back to the early 20th century. These strikes have often been driven by the need for better working conditions, fair pay, and safe staffing levels. Over the years, nursing strikes have played a role in highlighting the critical issues faced by nurses and have contributed to changes within the healthcare industry.

Why do Strikes Occur?

Nursing strikes, like other labor strikes, often stem from unresolved disputes between healthcare workers and management. Some of the common reasons include:

  • Wages and Benefits: Nurses may strike for competitive pay scales or better benefits packages.
  • Safe Staffing Levels: A frequent concern among nurses is inadequate staffing, which can compromise patient care and nurse safety.
  • Work Conditions: This encompasses everything from the quality of equipment to the physical environment of the healthcare facility.
  • Contractual Agreements: Disagreements over contract terms between a healthcare system and a nursing union, including working hours and other conditions, can lead to strikes.
  • Professional Respect: At times, strikes might occur because of perceived disrespect or lack of acknowledgment for the essential role nurses play in healthcare.

Recent Nursing Strikes

In 2022, 15,000 nurses in Minnesota staged the largest private-sector nursing strike in U.S. history, highlighting long-standing concerns exacerbated by the pandemic. ICU nurse Kelley Anaas cited decreased staffing levels through "benchmarking," where hospitals adjusted staffing to match national averages, despite steady patient demands. As COVID-19 became a regular challenge, hospitals reverted to these lowered staffing standards. Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, stressed the imperative for hospitals to value nurses with proper compensation and better staffing.

Another recent and highly publicized nursing strike took place in New York City in January 2023. Many nurses on the picket line emphasized the need to address short-staffing on hospital floors, attributing crowded conditions to patient risks and staff burnout. This became the union's main negotiation priority. The strike lasted 3 days until a resolution was found. 

Who is Affected by a Work Stoppage?

When nurses strike, everyone from patients, coworkers, and the general public is affected.  The ripple effect can be wide, touching:

  • Nurses: Those who join the strike demonstrate unity and voice collective concerns, simultaneously bearing the weight of potential lost wages and potential backlash. Conversely, nurses who decide to continue working might do so to ensure consistent patient care, uphold personal or ethical obligations, or address financial necessities, all while navigating the challenges of differing opinions among colleagues.
  • Allied Roles: Other healthcare workers may be indirectly affected. Their workloads might change, or they might face the moral and professional decision of whether to support the strike.
  • Patients: With reduced staff, patient care can be impacted. Non-emergency treatments may be postponed, and patients might experience longer wait times.
  • The Healthcare System: Prolonged strikes can strain the healthcare system. Hospitals might need to hire temporary staff, redirect patients, or temporarily shut down certain services.
  • The Broader Community: Beyond the immediate healthcare setting, communities might face increased wait times in emergency rooms or have to travel farther for medical care.

It's important for travel nurses and allied professionals to be aware of these impacts, recognizing the complexity of the environment in which they might be working. Through understanding and empathy, we can navigate these challenging waters, always prioritizing personal and patient safety and patient care.

What is a Strike Contract?

A strike contract is a specific type of employment agreement used by some healthcare facilities to hire temporary staff in anticipation of, or during, a nursing or healthcare worker strike. These contracts ensure that patient care continues even when the regular staff is on strike.

Key Components of Strike Nursing Jobs:

  • Duration: Strike contracts are typically short-term, only lasting for the duration of the strike, which is unknown.  A strike can last as long as it takes for an agreement to be reached.
  • Compensation: Strike contracts often come with a higher pay rate than regular contracts due to the urgent need for staff and the unique challenges of working during a strike.
  • Expectations: The roles and responsibilities might differ from a regular contract. They can involve filling in gaps left by striking workers, often in varying departments or specialties.  Professionals should be ready and willing to work in a high-risk environment.
  • Termination Clauses: Given the unpredictable nature of strikes, these contracts often contain specific clauses regarding the end of the strike and the termination of the contract.

Does Trusted Health Offer Strike Contracts?

While some agencies might provide strike contracts, Trusted Health does not. Our primary focus is on the safety and well-being of our clinicians. It is important to note that, for our clinicians who are already on a contract with us at a facility that goes on strike, we stand by you. 

Our support extends to clear communication, safety guidance, and ensuring that any additional pay provided by the facility due to the strike is passed on to you.

What to Expect When a Strike Occurs

A strike isn't an impromptu event. When unions and management can't come to an agreement, the union might declare a strike. However, there's a process:

  1. Declaration: The union announces its intention to strike after internal voting and discussions.
  2. 10-Day Notice Period: Federal law often requires unions to provide a 10-day notice before a strike, especially in healthcare settings. This period is given to ensure patient safety is not compromised and allows hospitals time to make necessary adjustments.

Making Your Decision: To Work or Not to Work During a Strike

The choice to work during a strike is deeply personal and varies from one individual to another. Here are some important considerations:

  • Weighing Patient Care vs. Personal Stance: It's a balance between your commitment to patient care and your feelings about the strike and the reasons it’s occurring.
  • Implications of Crossing the Picket Line: While you might be a temporary staff member, understand the emotional and social implications of working during a strike. It can affect relationships with regular staff.
  • Informed Decision-Making: Gather information. Understand why the strike is happening, what both sides are saying, and what your role will be during this period.

At Trusted Health, we encourage introspection. Weigh the pros and cons, understand the implications, and make a choice that aligns with your values and professional ethics. Whatever you decide, we're here to support you every step of the way.

What to Expect if You Choose to Cross the Picket Line

If you choose to cross the picket line, here are some things that you can anticipate and consider:

  • Atmosphere and Working Conditions: Anticipate a tense atmosphere. The facility might experience staffing shortages, meaning you might be asked to cover more shifts or areas outside your specialty or experience higher than normal patient ratios. 
  • Potential Reactions: Understandably, feelings can run high during strikes. Permanent staff and members of the community might express a variety of reactions, ranging from gratitude for ensuring continuous patient care to disappointment for not standing in solidarity with striking workers.
  • Emotional and Psychological Considerations: It's not just a physical journey, but an emotional one. You might grapple with feelings of guilt, uncertainty, or stress, given the surrounding tensions. Ensure you have a support system, be it family, friends, or colleagues, to talk through your feelings.

As you navigate these challenging times, remember that you're never truly alone. Your Nurse Advocate at Trusted Health is always available to provide support, answer questions, and assist you. Whether you're feeling overwhelmed, uncertain, or just need someone to talk to, the team at Trusted Health is just a call away.

Safety Considerations During a Nursing Strike

While the majority of strikes are peaceful demonstrations, it's important to stay aware of your surroundings. Maintain a respectful distance from aggressive picket lines and avoid engaging in confrontational discussions. Even in the midst of a strike, approach every situation with understanding. Listen, show compassion, and maintain the high level of professionalism that defines your role.

Trusted Health is here for you. We are committed to offering guidance, relaying timely safety information from the facility, and providing a strong support network during these challenging times. 


Strikes in healthcare are multifaceted events, driven by complex factors and impacting a wide range of stakeholders. Whether you're a travel nurse, allied health professional, or part of the permanent staff, understanding the nuances is key. 

At the end of the day, healthcare is about people, unity, and understanding. We urge all professionals to foster dialogue, share experiences, and support one another.

If ever in doubt or need guidance, remember Trusted Health stands by you. Reach out to us anytime, share your experiences, and lean on our community. We're stronger together, always aiming for the best in patient care and professional well-being.

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