Physicians at Rockford (Ill.) Health System withdrew a collective bargaining petition last week, citing management reforms.
The American Medical Association, which was paying the physicians' legal bills, declared a victory.
"This shows the superiority of organized medicine's approach to collective negotiations by physicians," said AMA board member Donald Palmisano, M.D., in a news release.
But a Rockford spokeswoman said the system never had contact with the AMA and physician support for a union had been dwindling. "This was the result of a medical staff working hard with a strong physician leadership group," said Helen Brooks, the system's corporate director of communications.
Rockford employs 180 doctors and includes Rockford Clinic, a 160-doctor multispecialty group, and 491-bed Rockford Memorial Hospital, which merged in 1994.
The AMA said the system agreed to increase physician representation in management and governance in response to a campaign by the Rockford Physicians Council, which petitioned to represent the doctors in collective bargaining (See commentaries, p. 64).
But Brooks said plans to integrate physicians into health system leadership were being developed before organizing started last summer.
A new management structure that includes a physician chief operating officer position was approved in December, shortly after a petition was filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Also, a physician was recently named to the board of directors' executive committee, Brooks said.
Physician department chairs, who are being paired with lay administrators, were named in April 1997. They were part of a physician leadership committee that sought advice from the medical staff to develop the new management model, Brooks said. Under the new model, physicians will approve the selection of department heads.
A hearing regarding union eligibility was being conducted last week before the NLRB in Peoria, Ill., when the petition and an unfair labor practices charge against the system were dropped.
If the changes don't work, the physicians will file another petition, said Pat Casey, an attorney with Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin who represented the physicians. He said the health system claimed it could not implement changes freely with a petition "hanging over" its head.