Scab Nurses on Strike Illustration

Scab Nurse: An Overview of Strike Nursing (2024)

by | Updated: Jan 2, 2024

As labor disputes in the healthcare sector continue to stir debates across the world, one term that frequently surfaces is “scab nurse.”

This derogatory term refers to nurses who choose to continue working despite a strike, crossing picket lines and filling the roles left vacant by their striking peers.

The decision to work during a strike, especially in an industry as critical as healthcare, is complex, nuanced, and often controversial.

This article aims to demystify the concept of a “scab nurse,” exploring the ethical, professional, and personal factors that influence such a decision and how it impacts the broader context of labor rights in the nursing profession.

What is a Scab Nurse?

Scab nurse is a term that is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to nurses who choose to work during a strike, essentially crossing picket lines. This term is derived from the broader term “scab,” which is used to describe any worker who works despite strike action or who fills in for striking workers.

In most labor disputes, the term “scab” is used by those who are on strike to express their disapproval of those who are not participating in the strike.

The use of this term is often contentious, as it is seen as derogatory.

Note: The decision to work or not work during a strike can be very complex, and individual workers may have many reasons for their choices. Furthermore, in fields like healthcare, where lives are potentially at risk, the ethics of striking can become even more complicated.

Scab Nurses on Strike Vector

Tips for Working as a Scab Nurse

Working as a “scab nurse” during a labor strike can be an emotionally and professionally challenging decision, but there may be circumstances where nurses choose or need to continue working.

Here are some tips if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Understand the Situation: Before deciding to cross a picket line, it’s important to fully understand the reasons behind the strike, the legal implications, and the potential consequences for your decision.
  • Know Your Rights: Labor laws vary by country and state, so understanding your rights and protections as a non-striking worker is essential. It may be beneficial to consult with a legal professional.
  • Practice Professionalism: Maintain a high level of professionalism when crossing picket lines and while working. Avoid confrontations and respect your colleagues’ decision to strike, as they should respect your decision to work.
  • Maintain Confidentiality: It’s important to maintain patient confidentiality and not discuss the strike or related matters with patients. Your focus should be on providing the best possible care.
  • Prepare for Potential Isolation: Understand that your decision may not be popular among some of your colleagues. You may face ostracization or negative reactions. Be prepared for this, and consider seeking support from counseling or employee assistance programs if available.
  • Ensure Patient Safety: During a strike, staffing levels may be lower than usual. Ensure you’re not compromising patient safety by overworking or taking on responsibilities beyond your scope of practice.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed notes about your work during the strike, including any incidents of harassment or intimidation. This can provide necessary evidence if disputes arise later.
  • Self-Care: Taking care of your mental and physical health is paramount during such stressful times. Ensure you get enough rest, eat well, and take time for relaxation and stress relief.
  • Communicate Clearly: If patients or their families ask about the strike, maintain neutrality and reassure them that patient care remains your top priority.
  • Support from Professional Associations: Reach out to professional nursing associations for advice and support. They may provide resources to help you navigate the complexity of working during a strike.

Remember: Every situation is unique, and these tips may not apply or may need to be adapted depending on your specific circumstances. Always consult with legal and professional resources as necessary.

The Ethical Dilemma: To Strike or Not to Strike in Healthcare

Strikes have been a fundamental tool for workers to express their dissatisfaction and negotiate for better working conditions, wages, and benefits.

However, in the healthcare sector, the decision to strike can be a complex ethical dilemma. Here’s why:

Patient Care

At the heart of the nursing profession is the commitment to patient care. A nurses’ strike could potentially disrupt this care, especially if it results in staff shortages or reduces the quality of services.

Even with contingency plans in place, there’s a risk that patient care might be compromised during a strike, which raises ethical questions.

Professional Obligation

Nurses, like all healthcare professionals, have a professional obligation to their patients. This is often formalized in a code of ethics, which emphasizes the importance of patient well-being.

Striking could be seen as violating this obligation, which is why some nurses may choose to continue working during a strike, often being labeled as ‘scab nurses’.

Advocating for Better Conditions

On the other hand, advocating for better working conditions, wages, and benefits through striking can also be seen as an ethical responsibility.

Improved conditions can lead to better patient care in the long term by reducing staff burnout, improving morale, and attracting and retaining qualified staff.

Nurses may view striking as a necessary action to fulfill their ethical obligation to advocate for their patients and their profession.

Personal Consequences

There can also be personal consequences for striking or not striking, which can add another layer to the ethical dilemma.

Striking nurses may face lost wages or potential retaliation, while those who continue to work may face ostracization from their peers.

The Role of Unions and Employers

Unions and employers also have ethical responsibilities in these situations. Unions should ensure they’re representing their members’ best interests and not encouraging action that could unduly harm patients.

Employers, for their part, should take grievances seriously and work to negotiate in good faith to prevent strikes from occurring in the first place.

Note: The decision to strike or not to strike in healthcare is a complex ethical issue with no easy answers. It requires careful consideration of professional and ethical obligations, patient safety, personal consequences, and the potential for long-term improvements to the healthcare system.

How to Become a Scab Nurse

Becoming a “scab nurse,” or a nurse who works during a strike, is less about a formal process and more about personal decision-making during a labor dispute.

If your workplace is experiencing a strike, you may choose to continue working, essentially becoming a “scab nurse”.

However, before making this decision, it’s crucial to understand the reasons for the strike, the potential ramifications of your choice, including professional and social consequences, and to ensure you’re legally protected.

Always prioritize patient care and safety, maintain professionalism, and respect the choices of your peers, whether they align with yours or not.

Nurses on Strike Vector Illustration

Pros and Cons of Being a Scab Nurse

There are both positive and negative aspects to becoming a scab nurse, including the following:


  • Continued Income: Working during a strike ensures you continue to earn your regular income.
  • Patient Care: By continuing to work, you can help ensure that patients receive the care they need during the strike.
  • Avoiding Conflict: Some nurses may prefer to stay out of the labor dispute altogether, and continuing to work can be one way to do this.


  • Professional Isolation: Choosing to work during a strike can lead to ostracization or negative reactions from colleagues who are striking.
  • Negative Perception: There can be a negative perception associated with crossing picket lines, which may impact your reputation.
  • Long-term Implications: If the strike leads to improved conditions for workers, those who continued to work might be seen as not having contributed to that effort.

Remember: Every situation is unique, and these pros and cons may not apply or may need to be adapted depending on specific circumstances.

What is Strike Nursing?

Strike nursing refers to the practice of hiring temporary nurses to fill in for regular staff who are on strike.

These nurses, often sourced from agencies that specialize in providing healthcare professionals during labor disputes, are brought in to ensure continuity of patient care during the strike.

While strike nurses can help maintain services during a labor dispute, their use can also be controversial, as it can be seen as undermining the efforts of striking nurses to advocate for better wages, working conditions, or other employment issues.

Strike nurses themselves may face ethical dilemmas about crossing picket lines and replacing their striking colleagues.

Strike Nursing Jobs: Things to Consider

If you’re a nurse considering taking a strike nursing job, here are several factors to take into account:

  • Agency Reputation: Not all staffing agencies are created equal. Before accepting a position, research the agency thoroughly. Look for reviews from previous strike nurses, and ensure the agency is reputable and treats its employees well.
  • Contract Terms: Understand the terms of the contract, including duration, working hours, pay rates, and benefits. Strike nursing jobs often offer high pay, but they can also involve long hours and challenging conditions.
  • Housing and Travel: Some strikes can last for weeks, so consider where you will live during the assignment. Some agencies provide housing and cover travel expenses, but be sure to confirm these details before accepting a position.
  • Working Conditions: Be prepared for potentially difficult working conditions. The regular staff may be unavailable to orient you, and you may have to quickly adapt to new protocols and procedures.
  • Professional Relationships: Keep in mind that crossing a picket line can have implications for your relationships with other healthcare professionals. You might face hostility or criticism from striking staff.
  • Legal Implications: Understand the legal implications of working during a strike. Laws vary by location, so it’s important to be aware of your rights and responsibilities.
  • Personal Ethics: Consider your personal feelings about the reasons behind the strike. If you agree with the striking nurses’ demands, you might feel uncomfortable taking a job that could undermine their bargaining power.

Remember: The decision to work as a strike nurse is personal and should be made after careful consideration of these and other relevant factors.

The Impact of Strikes on Patient Care and Safety

The impact of strikes on patient care and safety is a topic of concern in the healthcare industry. Here’s a brief look at how strikes can potentially affect these crucial areas:

  • Staff Shortages: Strikes often result in staff shortages, which can lead to increased workloads for remaining staff, increased wait times for patients, and potentially reduced quality of care.
  • Disrupted Services: Non-emergency procedures and services may be postponed or canceled during strikes, causing disruptions to patient care.
  • Temporary Staff: Hospitals may hire temporary staff or “strike nurses” during a strike. While these nurses can help maintain services, they may not be as familiar with the hospital’s procedures and protocols, potentially impacting patient safety.
  • Communication Breakdown: Strikes can cause a breakdown in communication within the healthcare setting, as regular staff may not be available to provide important patient information to the temporary staff.
  • Potential Increase in Adverse Events: Some research suggests that strikes can lead to an increase in adverse events, such as medical errors, although other studies have found no significant change.
  • Contingency Planning: The impact of a strike on patient care and safety can be mitigated by a hospital’s contingency planning. This can include hiring temporary staff, redistributing patients to other facilities, and focusing on providing essential services.
  • Long-term Effects: While strikes can potentially impact patient care and safety in the short term, they may lead to improved conditions in the long term. If strikes lead to better working conditions for nurses, this can reduce burnout and turnover, leading to better patient care in the long term.

Strikes in healthcare present a complex issue, balancing the rights of workers to advocate for better conditions with the potential impact on patient care and safety.

As such, they require careful planning and management to minimize any potential negative effects.

What is a scab nurse vector illustration

FAQs About Being a Scab Nurse

What is the Job Outlook for Scab Nurses?

The job outlook for “scab nurses,” or those who choose to work during strikes, largely depends on the frequency and duration of labor disputes in the healthcare sector.

During periods of labor unrest, there may be a higher demand for these nurses.

However, it’s important to note that this is not a specific career path but rather a situational role that a nurse might find themselves in during a strike.

How Much Does a Scab Nurse Make per Hour?

The pay rate for nurses working during strikes can vary widely depending on the location, the severity of the strike, and the individual nurse’s qualifications and experience.

In some cases, these nurses might be paid a premium rate due to the urgent need for their services, making their hourly wage potentially higher than their usual rate.

However, this can be offset by other factors, such as increased workload or challenging working conditions.

What are the Working Hours for a Scab Nurse?

The working hours for a nurse working during a strike can be unpredictable and may be longer than usual due to staffing shortages.

These nurses may have to work additional shifts or overtime to cover for their striking colleagues.

However, it’s essential that nurses ensure they are not compromising patient safety by overworking.

Is Being a Scab Nurse Worth It?

The decision to work during a strike is highly personal and depends on a variety of factors, including the nurse’s financial situation, professional obligations, personal beliefs, and the specific circumstances of the strike.

Some nurses may find it worthwhile due to continued income or the ability to provide patient care.

However, others may face negative social consequences or feel they are undermining the cause of the strike. Therefore, whether it’s “worth it” or not will vary greatly from one individual to another.

Final Thoughts

The role of a “scab nurse” or a nurse working during a strike is a complex and often controversial one.

While it can ensure the continuity of patient care during labor disputes, it also raises several ethical and professional considerations, from potential ostracization to undermining the bargaining power of striking nurses.

The decision to work during a strike is highly personal and requires careful evaluation of multiple factors, including the reasons for the strike, the potential ramifications, and individual beliefs and circumstances.

As healthcare continues to grapple with labor disputes, understanding the concept and implications of a “scab nurse” becomes ever more critical in navigating these complex dynamics.

Ultimately, the focus should always remain on providing the best possible care for patients while advocating for better conditions for those who serve on the front lines of our healthcare system.

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


  • “In Labor Terms, What Is a Scab?” Public People, Apr. 2023,
  • “Healthcare Strike Staffing.” Medical Solutions, 29 Sept. 2020,

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