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 last month approved a plan to affiliate with the Washington-based Service Employees International Union.
The CIR's 9,000 doctors in six states and the District of Columbia will constitute 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," says 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, says his union needed the support that only a big organization like the SEIU could offer.
"We're growing very rapidly," he says. "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 says.
The CIR believes "all healthcare workers should be organized," he says. "Doctors should be leading the effort."