PHYSICIAN UNIONS: $1M Effort to Organize Salaried Docs
Flush from their ground-breaking u nionization of 74,000 home health care workers in Los Angeles last week and eager to take on managed care, the Service Employees International Union announced plans yesterday to spend $1 million to organize the nation's salaried physicians. Continuing a managed-care backlash that has seen physicians joining such unlikely labor groups such as the United Food and Commercial Workers, SEIU officials said yesterday they would target physician union-friendly California, Florida, Washington, DC, and Washington state (Bernstein/Cleeland/Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, 3/2). The move, which will consolidate the Committee of Interns and Residents, the Doctors Council and the United Salaried Physicians and Dentists into the 15,000-member National Doctors Alliance, pits the SEIU against administrators who are "dictating medical treatments in order to protect the bottom line," according to NDA President Dr. Barry Liebowitz (Sisk, New York Daily News, 3/2). In its attempt to unionize physicians, the NDA will target salaried doctors, who make up about half of all physicians nationwide -- and 80% of new medical school graduates. The Boston Globe reports that already about 6% of the nation's 680,000 doctors belong to a union, but about half of the total are barred from collective bargaining because of independent contractor status (Lewis, 3/2).
To Strike or Not to Strike?
The NDA promised it would not strike over pay, but refused to rule out a work-stoppage "over clinical issues, such as declining access or quality of care." Liebowitz said, "It is far better to strike than to allow a patient to go to substandard facilities" (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 3/2). While acknowledging that physicians "find themselves in a very stressful environment," American Medical Association President Dr. Nancy Dickey said her group continues to oppose "traditional union" settings for doctors (Franklin, Chicago Tribune, 3/2). The AMA -- which is "barred by law from undertaking any form of collective bargaining on behalf of doctors" -- does not believe union "practices ensure the integrity of the patient- physician relationship or help physicians achieve the best decisions for quality health care in this country," Dickey concluded (Burn, Washington Times, 3/2). But Dr. Charles Goodman, who recently joined the non-SEIU affiliated Union of Physicians and Dentists, said, "I found that national organizations I used to belong to, like the AMA, won't go to bat for you or your patients. ... Individual doctors and groups are powerless when they go up against large HMOs and (physician- management companies) and hospitals" (Los Angeles Times, 3/2).