The country's largest union of physicians is joining forces with the largest union of healthcare workers.
The New York-based Committee of Interns and Residents late last week approved a plan to affiliate with the Washington-based Service Employees International Union.
The CIR's 9,000 doctors will represent the SEIU's first physician members. The SEIU represents 475,000 nonphysician healthcare workers nationwide.
With the CIR under its wing, the SEIU eventually could represent every person working inside a hospital, nursing home, clinic or other facility.
"The healthcare system's greatest strength is not in the corporations that are privatizing it, but in the professional caregivers who make it work," said SEIU President Andrew Stern. "Doctors are on the front line of patient care, and by joining forces, we can continue to ensure that their working conditions support that front line."
John Ronches, the CIR's executive director, said his union needed the support that only a big organization like the SEIU could offer.
"We're growing very rapidly," he said. "We've grown 40% in the last year and a half. We expect to grow more rapidly, and we don't have the resources to keep up with the demand."
The doctors are motivated by changes in the industry. "Employers are consolidating and merging. There are fewer of them as time goes on; you need bigger organizations to deal with them," Ronches said.
The CIR believes "all healthcare workers should be organized," he said. "Doctors should be leading the effort."
The union represents doctors in six states and the District of Columbia. It bargains for doctors at such institutions as New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., Los Angeles County hospitals and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
The CIR and the SEIU have committed to spend $1 million over the next year to organize more physicians.