PHYSICIAN UNIONS: NLRB Permits Residents to Unionize
Interns and residents at private hospitals are employees, not students, and therefore are eligible to unionize and strike, according to a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board reached Friday and released yesterday, the Washington Post reports (Swoboda, 11/30). NLRB board members were divided 3-2 on the decision, which overturns a 1976 precedent. Those in favor of unionization likened the experience of residents and interns to other professionals in extended training programs -- such as associate lawyers and apprentice architects -- who are considered employees. The ruling comes in a case filed by a branch of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), a union organization whose bargaining privileges were threatened by the 1996 merger of Boston City Hospital -- which, like other public hospitals, recognized resident and intern unions -- and Boston University Medical Center to create the Boston Medical Center, a private entity (Love, AP/Austin American-Statesman, 11/30). CIR officials now hope to add roughly 90,000 eligible physicians-in-training to their current public-hospital membership of 10,000 interns and residents.
The Whole System Is Ill
Observers speculated that the ruling will intensify efforts among physicians to unionize in the era of managed care. The Association of American Medical Colleges and the AHA are expected to issue formal statements on the decision today; however, an AAMC representative told the Washington Post that the ruling is "bad for" the medical education system (11/30). Some physician educators in California, where the state Public Employment Relations Board ruled in favor of University of California interns and residents seeking to unionize, worry that potential union demands for resident and intern wage increases could hurt already ailing hospitals (Feder, San Jose Mercury News, 11/30).