Jefferson patient actors seek unionization

A group of gig workers who act as patients at Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University want to unionize, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Dec. 4. 

The workers, known as standardized patients, are employees at the university's Rector Clinical Skills & Simulation Center. They are trained to simulate common healthcare situations to provide medical and nursing students at the university hands-on experience in diagnosis, physical examinations and appropriate bedside manner, according to a Nov. 13 news release from Local 32, an affiliated local of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. 

Now, they want to unionize to address what they say is low pay and erratic scheduling.

"Despite the importance of standardized patients to the education of Jefferson's students, SPs have not received an increase in base pay since 2008 despite years of increasing cost of living and inflation in the Philadelphia area," the release states. "Jefferson standardized patients' scheduling is erratic, frequently leading to weeks or even months without work and pay. SPs are also required to participate in both emotionally traumatic medical encounters as well as be subject to physically invasive examinations including ultrasounds and gynecological exams with little-to-no increased pay for the increased hazards."

The union also cites standardized patients' desire for increased security at the building where they work in light of what they say are multiple reported incidents of unauthorized intruders entering the building during work hours over the last year.

The National Labor Relations Board provides various paths to forming a union. It will conduct an election if at least 30 percent of workers sign cards or a petition indicating their support for unionization, according to its website. Workers would then vote on whether to unionize. Employers may also voluntarily recognize a union based on signed union-authorization cards or other evidence. 

More than 70% of the roughly 140 standardized patients at Thomas Jefferson University submitted a petition to university officials in November asking them for voluntary union recognition with OPEIU Local 32, according to the release. Jefferson denied the request.

"Thomas Jefferson University respects the rights of its employees to choose to be represented by or not to be represented by a union," the university said in a statement shared with Becker's on Dec. 4. "At this time, the university has declined to voluntarily recognize the union, as we believe that our employees should have an opportunity to formally vote in a secret ballot election based upon accurate information without outside pressure. 

"The union has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board which will allow for a prompt election so that our employees will have the opportunity to make an informed choice and to exercise their right to vote. The safety and security of our staff, students and patients is a top priority. Jefferson consistently evaluates and enhances our security protocols to provide the safest environment possible."

As of Dec. 4, an election date has not been set. If the unionization push is successful, it would likely be the nation's first union of this kind of workers, according to the Inquirer.

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars