PHYSICIAN UNIONS: 800 LA County Doctors Unite
Following a three-year effort, Los Angeles County doctors Friday became the largest group of U.S. doctors to unionize in 18 years, voting 341-182 in favor of joining the Union of American Physicians and Dentists. The "historic victory for organized labor" reflects a "nationwide jump in physicians' enrollment in unions, which many attribute to the dwindling fees and loss of control over patient care resulting from the managed care revolution," the Los Angeles Times reports. "This is a great day for patients and physicians alike," said Dr. Dan Lawlor, the union official who lead the campaign, adding, "Financial markets and Wall Street are taking over (health care) ... and it's not just the private sector managed care that is affected. It's the public hospitals as well." The move, which unites the 800 non-resident doctors employed by L.A. County, follows continuing cost-cutting efforts, beginning with physician layoffs in 1995, which union leaders "vowed to slow down" while focusing "more on patient care and (trying) to replace lost emergency room and support staff."
A 65% majority of the doctors who cast ballots were pro-union. But those votes still represent a minority of county physicians. Further, the county's Association of County Physicians opposed the union -- reflecting physicians' persistent, "independent- minded" stance. The union will represent all 800 doctors regardless of whether they are "dues-paying members" (Riccardi, 5/29). County officials said they will begin discussing contracts at the union's request (Fordahl, AP/Los Angeles Times, 5/29).
Dr. Norma Rae
About 36,000, or 6%, of the nation's 600,000 doctors are union members, and the physician membership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, "has quintupled in the last four years." Already, the leaders of the Los Angeles organization effort have been contacted by interested physicians and foresee "rapid expansion of their ranks." "Trends start in Los Angeles," Dr. Louis Simpson, a physician at a local hospital, said, adding, "This is a revolution that is going to spread like wildfire across the country." Recently, home care workers agreed to unionize while fee-for-service physicians in New Jersey were denied organization by the National Labor Relations Board -- further demonstrating "a deep discontent among employees of the country's health care system" (Riccardi, 5/29).