One of the nation's most vocal state medical societies is mulling the possibility of unionizing a small portion of its 35,000 members who are medical residents and government employees.
A resolution introduced by the California Medical Association's executive committee was approved by delegates on a voice vote at their annual conference in San Diego last week. A proposal crafted by the CMA's legal department in conjunction with the executive committee is expected to be submitted to the 48-member board of trustees later in the year, according to newly elected President Robert Reid, M.D.
"We've been approached by various underrepresented members about this issue and have decided to address it," said Reid, named CMA president Feb. 16.
Among the CMA members who have broached the issue are medical residents concerned about lengthy hours and state-employed psychiatrists bristling about proposed changes in regulations that would allow psychologists and other allied professionals to join medical staffs. About 450 residents and an undetermined number of state-employed psychiatrists are CMA members, Reid said.
Since federal antitrust guidelines prohibit union organizing by the great majority of physicians -- most of whom own or are partners in a practice -- membership would be open to only the handful of CMA members working as employees, Reid said. The union, which would be called a guild, also would be structured as a CMA subsidiary to avoid antitrust violations.
The steps would be taken to avoid a fate like the one experienced by doctors in New Jersey, whose organizing efforts failed, Reid said. The National Labor Relations Board rejected their argument that they were de facto employees of health plans.
The guild also would be prohibited from striking, in line with an American Medical Association declaration that striking is unethical.
"Physicians are still compensated well, and to strike over money issues would not gain us a lot of political sympathy," Reid said.