PHYSICIAN UNIONS: Boston Group Paving the Way
A union representing interns and residents at Boston Medical Center -- the House Officers Association -- is celebrating its 30th anniversary, making it "one of the oldest doctors unions in the nation at a time when such unions are suddenly a hot topic." In 1997 the House Officers Association petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for legal recognition. A ruling is expected any day now, and regardless of the decision it is likely to be a "watershed for trainee-doctors unions," opening the door for 93,000 unorganized interns and residents. Under current federal law, interns and residents are classified as students, not employees, and are prohibited from collectively bargaining with private institutions. But in seven states, including Massachusetts, state law allows union recognition in public sector hospitals. Recently, medical professionals have been looking to unions to fight back against the growing perception that they are nothing but "contract workers" for managed care companies and hospitals. While some agree that unions have improved trainees' status and patient care, many fear that unionization will "tarnish" the image of physicians and will affect their credibility. Joseph Keyes, general counsel for the Association of American Medical Colleges, reveals another concern held by many officials at teaching hospitals. He said, "In every way, we think it would be a very bad thing. We believe it would turn academic issues into bargainable issues." He added, "working hours, assignments, working conditions, and promotion of interns and residents would all become subject to bargaining and arbitration ... We shouldn't have a union expert on bricklaying deciding whether your neurosurgeon is competent to perform neurosurgery" (Knox, Boston Globe, 11/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.