Strike Nursing: Overview and What It Means for Nurses

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Written by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse thinks about the pros and cons of strike nursing.

As the healthcare crisis unfolds, the U.S. has faced some of the largest healthcare strikes in history. Since 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has recorded 23 major work stoppages, idling 120,600 workers across industries. And even more noteworthy — 88 percent of these strikes involved the healthcare and education sectors. As healthcare strikes continue, a specialized field of nursing takes center stage: strike nursing.

This article is your go-to resource for your questions about this nursing field. We’ll explore the reasons behind the U.S. nursing strikes, what the job of a strike nurse is all about, and the arguments for and against this role.

What Is Strike Nursing?

Strike nurses, much like travel nurses, take on short-term contracts at facilities. Strike nurses are distinct because they fill positions in facilities that are facing staffing shortages resulting from staff nurses going on strike.

These nurses are like a defibrillator for the healthcare system. When staff workers — the heart of the company — stop working, strike nurses step in to resuscitate the facility’s vital functioning until internal issues are resolved.

Due to the chaotic nature of strike nursing, it is known for receiving higher compensation in the industry. However, working as a strike nurse is no walk in the park. During strikes, facilities are facing significant challenges, but unlike other businesses, they can’t just shut down for a few days until the dispute is resolved. The healthcare system has a responsibility to keep its doors open and care for its patients — and that’s where strike nurses come into play.

What Is a Strike Nurse Assignment?

A typical strike nurse assignment starts fast, so pack your bags quickly. You could be expected to kick off your assignment in a matter of days. A hiring agency typically covers the costs of flights and accommodations. However, you may need to share a room with fellow nurses to save on expenses.

The distinguishing feature of strike nursing is its sudden and short-term nature. It might end just as quickly as it started.

This profession requires flexibility, adaptability, and resilience, but it also offers the opportunity to make a significant impact during a critical period for healthcare facilities, communities, and patients in need.

Why Are the U.S. Nursing Strikes Happening?

Wondering why, all of a sudden, there are so many strikes and strike nursing jobs available? These strikes aren’t a one-time event; they’ve been brewing for years. Healthcare facilities across the nation have faced staffing shortages. In addition, 70% of Americans report feeling failed by the U.S healthcare system.

While the dynamics of each strike are unique, the issue escalated significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a toll on the healthcare system. While some people enjoyed remote work, healthcare workers fought for their patients on the frontlines.

Nurses faced immense stress due to their workloads in high-risk environments, leading to burnout and in some cases, work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — which in many states, like Florida, is not covered by worker compensation.

Since the pandemic, the healthcare sphere has continued to face challenges. Below are some of the reasons why staff nurses are going on strike:

There’s no clear end in sight for the issues that trigger nurse strikes, and finding quick solutions to this long-standing problem is challenging. As a strike nurse, you’re likely to be in high demand until the healthcare system implements more effective, long-term solutions.

What Are the Ethical Considerations of Being a Strike Nurse?

The ethical aspects of working as a strike nurse are open to debate, with a range of varying opinions. The question of whether or not replacing staff nurses during strikes is acceptable depends on personal values. Here are some of the arguments both supporting and opposing this work.

Arguments in Favor of Strike Nursing

  • Patient care: Strike nurses can argue that by filling in during strikes, they help ensure that patients continue to receive medical attention, minimizing potential harm.
  • Nursing responsibility: Some strike nurses see their work as upholding the duty to care for patients and advocating for their well-being even in the face of labor disputes.
  • Personal choice: Some nursing professionals argue that they have the right to make decisions that align with their own values and circumstances, such as financial necessity.
  • Temporary nature: These positions are temporary— which allows strike nurses to help during labor disputes without impacting long-term solutions for the facilities’ staffing needs.

Arguments Against Strike Nursing

  • Labor solidarity: Some nurses say strike nurses weaken collective bargaining power by crossing picket lines, undermining the striking nurses’ negotiation efforts.
  • Conflict of interest: Some say that, since strike nurses are paid much more than regular staff, this might create a conflict of interest, potentially affecting their advocacy for better work conditions for nurses.
  • Employer interference: Some see healthcare facilities and agencies hiring strike nurses as profiting from labor disputes. This can raise ethical concerns about profiting from the suffering of workers.
  • Professional ethical codes: Nursing organizations like the American Nurses Association (ANA) have ethical codes emphasizing solidarity with colleagues and labor rights. Some say replacing striking nurses may conflict with these codes.
  • Patient continuity of care: Critics claim patient care may suffer when temporary strike nurses who are unfamiliar with facility procedures step in, potentially resulting in poorer patient outcomes.

Strike Nurse Salary

The demand for strike nursing today is higher than ever due to ongoing labor disputes. Strike nurses are among the highest paid nurses in the industry, sometimes earning up to $120 per hour. Additionally, some agencies may offer bonuses, overtime pay, per diem for housing, and other incentives.

Frequently Asked Questions about Being a Strike Nurse

Do healthcare agencies have standard policies for determining strike nurse pay?

While some agencies may have standard policies in place, others may negotiate pay rates based on factors like location, experience, duration of the strike, and specific job responsibilities.

What are typical work hours for strike nurses?

The work schedule differs depending on the agency. Certain strike contracts may demand 72 hours of work within a single week. And since these contracts are open-ended, you may be required to work under such conditions for weeks or months.

What is the typical length of a contract?

Due to the unpredictable nature of strikes, these contracts typically feature clauses outlining the resolution of the strike and the contract’s termination. You might go home faster than you expected.

Where do you find a strike nurse job?

You can find work opportunities through nursing agencies, online job boards, union sites, hospital websites, and local news (to spot potential opportunities during labor disputes).

What are the pros of working during strikes?

You will enjoy higher pay, variability of experience, and short-term duration of these assignments. Plus, you might go home earlier than you expect and still get paid. Due to the challenging nature of this job, it can push your professional growth to new heights.

What are the cons of working during strikes?

The cons of this career path can include lack of job security (strikes are not everyday occurrences), emotional strain, lack of benefits, constant travel, institutional knowledge gap, and license and credentialing challenges. While becoming licensed in a nursing compact state may be able to save you time with licensing, obtaining the credentials for each assignment can be time-consuming and costly.

Find a Nursing Job You Love

If you’re not interested in joining the strike nursing ranks but want to find a job you love — one that won’t leave you yearning for a strike — we can help. Learn how IntelyCare can match you with nursing jobs that are a great fit.