Physicians are seeking union elections: Where and why

Hospitals and health systems have faced heightened union activity during the pandemic, most of which has involved nurses and other healthcare professionals. Physicians have also been involved in union-related activities, including efforts toward representation at the bargaining table.

A number of factors are driving the trend. Physicians are seeking greater investments by hospitals in working conditions, staffing and other resources needed to provide patient care. Hospitals and health systems, meanwhile, have emphasized their commitment to quality care and these professionals during a challenging time in healthcare.

Among the latest examples is Loma Linda (Calif.) University Health, where residents and fellow physicians recently filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board Feb. 13 for a union representation election. 

The Loma Linda residents and fellow physicians work at various facilities within the six-hospital system. They seek to unionize with the Union of American Physicians & Dentists to address their concerns regarding pay, staffing, scheduling and burnout.

Physicians at Minneapolis-based Allina Health's Mercy Hospital also recently filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election. 

The physicians, who work at Mercy Hospital's Unity and Mercy campuses in Fridley, Minn., and Coon Rapids, Minn., say they seek to organize with Doctors Council SEIU to boost physician input and promote patient-centered healthcare.

And at Providence Medford (Ore.) Medical Center, a group of emergency department physicians filed with the National Labor Relations Board Feb. 10 for a union recognition election.

The Oregon Nurses Association said the 15 physicians seek union recognition to address issues related to staffing, patient care and care access. If formed, the new group, Southern Oregon Providers Association, would partner with the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, a union represented by the American Federation of Teachers Local 6552 and serviced by the ONA.

The NLRB provides various paths to forming a union. According to the labor board's website, the NLRB will conduct an election if at least 30 percent of workers sign cards or a petition indicating their support for unionization. Workers would then vote on whether to unionize. Employers may also voluntarily recognize a union based on signed union-authorization cards or other evidence.

Hospitals and health systems have responded to union drives by saying that they value workers and respect their right to vote on whether to unionize. They also said they will follow the NLRB's process as it plays out. Additionally, Allina Health expressed concern that a union environment "will create conflict, complication and unnecessary complexity."

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