Date of Award

Fall 1988

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Richard W Hurd


In recent decades, employment in the service sector has swelled while the number of jobs in manufacturing has declined. Simultaneously, the percent of the workforce belonging to labor unions has fallen to about seventeen. It is the organization of service industry workers which unions expect to reverse the latter trend. However, a major obstacle facing union organizers of service workers is management's increasing use of labor-management consultants to resist organization.

In a growing, predominantly female, service occupation, registered nurses (RNs) in hospitals represent the type of workers unions must organize to increase membership. While dissatisfaction with job conditions makes nurses ripe for unionization, consultant-inspired management has responded with union election campaign tactics and personnel policies designed to discourage RN interest in unions. This dissertation seeks to determine the effectiveness of these strategies in limiting unionization among hospital RNs.

Based on a review of relevant management, union, and academic literature, employers which have experienced union activity among workers appear to maintain different personnel policies than those which have not. Further, institutions employing consultants appear to use policies not used by their counterparts without such assistance.

These observations are examined thoroughly in a case study of RN-management relations at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Hospital from 1979 through 1986. Analysis of a survey of hospital administrators in Maine and New Hampshire also seeks to identify the specific consultant-inspired techniques used to discourage RN organizing.

The research indicates that, despite the consultants' contention that they provide advice on preventive labor relations and on methods to defeat organizing drives, their use in the latter role predominates. Additionally, results found here are consistent with the view that consultant-inspired management changes its communication style and implements new personnel policies in response to perceived organizing threats. The revisions rarely occur in categories which administrators believe substantively affect nurses' job satisfaction. But hospitals appear to make changes in communication programs believing that RNs will perceive them as responsive to their needs. Based on the survey analysis, the tactic appears to have contributed to management success in discouraging unions in Maine and New Hampshire hospitals.