PHYSICIAN UNIONIZATION: AMA Vows No Strikes
The American Medical Association physicians' union -- Physicians for Responsible Negotiations (PRN) -- is trying to set itself apart from other unions with an announcement that it will not support strikes by doctors. The AP/Arizona Daily Star reports that the union "intends to make one point clear: This is a different kind of union. No strikes. No recruiting of doctors." The AMA hopes to convey "the point that unionization is a last resort for doctors who cannot settle their grievances any other way." Todd Vande Hey, AMA vice president of private sector advocacy and a member of the union's governing body, said, "Traditional labor unions do not and have not promoted a professional image or an image that is consistent with principles that physicians feel must be paramount. Strike provisions or withholding services is unacceptable to them." Vande Hey added, "Clearly, this is a statement that physicians want and feel that a message needs to be sent about just how frustrated they are -- that individual voices no longer suffice." And insurers apparently are taking notice. Some observers have said that "AMA's activism has prompted insurers to alleviate tension with doctors," taking such actions as including doctors on decision-making committees. The insurance industry "is most worried" by AMA efforts to sidestep antitrust laws that outlaw self-employed doctors from collective bargaining. And at least one group appears ready to test the AMA's union -- the Illinois State Medical Society's President Dr. Clair Callan has said that "joining PRN might be more cost-effective than starting a separate group," adding, "It would be nice if they do the groundwork and then we can walk in and take advantage of that" (Webber, 10/12).
Sign of Things to Come?
American Medical News reports that when the Rockford (IL) Physicians Council was formed in July 1997, it "promised to be an example of physicians' ability to organize without the help of trade unions." But now, it has become a tale of "what happens when unionizing fails," President Dr. Douglas Kaplan said. The union's struggles also might be a "telling example of the difficulties the AMA will face." AMN reports that the "physicians who attempted to unionize the hospital and delivery system there faced many of the same problems that physicians elsewhere have faced who've sold their practices to hospitals or practice management firms and have lived to regret it." Dr. William Sacksteder, who served on the union's board, said, "In order for something like this to be viable, it needs the support of a number of physicians. This did not seem to the case." Some of the same problems that plagued doctors before unionization did not change after the doctors organized. Still, some are not counting the union's losses just yet. Dr. Roger Bohn said he believes "the majority of Rockford's physicians are satisfied with their representation" (Klein, 10/4 issue).