KAISER PERMANENTE: Doctors Targeted For Union Drive
The nation's oldest and largest physicians' trade union has "launched an aggressive campaign to organize" Kaiser Permanente doctors, the Sacramento Business Journal reports. The Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD) Tuesday sent letters to 3,300 physicians throughout the state to kick off the drive. Deane Hillsman, a Sacramento physician who serves as the board secretary for the union, said, "This is our watershed moment -- we've dreamed of this for years but have never had the edge, national horsepower and funding to do it. ... For better or worse, we've decided to go for the Holy Grail."
To Organize Or Not To Organize
The giant HMO "unwittingly opened the door" for the campaign when it agreed to a "national pact with the AFL-CIO" last year. Under the contract, Kaiser said it would remain neutral to union-organizing efforts. Gary Robinson, executive director of the UAPD said, "We are going after doctors in Northern California first because they have expressed interest and it's already a very unionized area." However, the Business Journal reports that "the news took Kaiser by surprise." Dr. Jack Rozance, chief of staff at Kaiser's Morse Avenue Hospital, said, "It seems pointless to organize. Our physicians are the owners of the medical group and we run it."
The Time Is Ripe
The union is hoping to capitalize on the fact that Kaiser doctors did not receive a pay increase this year and took a 10% pay cut in 1997, the Business Journal reports. Meanwhile, nurses and other medical personnel represented by two unions won increases. However, many question whether joining a labor union will increase the doctors' clout. "The thing that makes a union powerful is the potential to strike," said Bill Sandburg, executive director of the Sacramento-El Dorado Medical Society. He noted that in the past doctors have been reluctant to do so. Dr. Jack Lewin, CEO of the California Medical Association, also questioned the need for the union, noting that "Kaiser is a democratic physicians' group." He said, "By and large, it makes its own decisions and already has its own method for bargaining compensation. I'm concerned that unionization would fragment the medical group." However, the Business Journal notes that the CMA is considering the formation of its own doctors union to "represent resident doctors in training and government physicians," which would "go head-to-head with UAPD." The Business Journal reports that UAPD currently has some 5,000 members -- 4,5000 of whom are in California (Robertson, 5/4 issue).