PHYSICIAN UNIONIZATION: Seattle Votes To Be Counted Today
"In Seattle, doctors at Medalia HealthCare are voting on whether to form a union. Ballots have been cast over the past two weeks and will be counted today. If the workers approve the measure, they would become the largest group of private sector doctors ever to join a union," NPR's Renee Montagne reported this morning. NPR's Wendy Kaufman reported that "[w]ith more than 300 doctors and 45 facilities, Medalia is one of the largest primary care networks in the Northwest." She noted that most Medalia doctors "work in comfortable private clinics" and are paid an average $135,000 a year. Nationwide, Kaufman reported, "[m]anaged care and other cost saving measures have prompted cuts in physician salaries, increases in the number of patients and forced other changes in the ways doctors practice." Medalia family practice physician Mary Jo Kinchner said, "I want a union so that the physicians will have better input into the major decisionmaking. We need to have a say in what our future is, in hours, our compensation, our staffing levels, how much our staff is paid even is affecting us." Kaufman reported, "Kinchner acknowledges that many of the doctors' grievances stem from the economic pressure to do more with less. But she argues that if doctors are united, they will be able to force the administration to manage things better, and give them more stability in their salaries."
The Company Line
Medalia executives oppose the union effort. Medical director Dave Bails explained, "I would not have the flexibility of talking to my individual doctors about the issues that are on the bargaining table. That's the major thing." He also believes that the physicians' "expectations ... for the union are going to be far exceeding what is capable of being accomplished at the collective bargaining table, which is going to increase the anger and the angst and the frustration."
Looking For Representation
Kaufman noted that Medalia, formed in 1995, "has never turned a profit, and the uncertainty about Medalia's survival has no doubt fueled the doctors' frustrations." Last fall, she reported, the doctors chose New York-based United Salaried Physicians and Dentists as their prospective union. Jeffrey Rug, the union's director of organizing, said, "Having a union gives you legal rights, to have a voice, to work with your administration. There's no other organizational structure that really gives doctors that ability, and doctors are increasingly frustrated with what's going on, and unions are a traditional way to address frustrations in the workplace." Kaufman underlined the implications of the Medalia union vote in her summation: "As the votes are counted later today, physicians in health care companies across the country will be watching. A victory could spur other physicians to join organized labor while a defeat could dampen union organizing efforts now going on in other parts of the country" ("Morning Edition," 6/2).