The physician union movement has received a boost from the unionization of almost 800 physicians in Southern California.
The 794 employed physicians of Los Angeles County in late May voted to join the Oakland, Calif.-based Union of American Physicians and Dentists. It is the largest physician unionization in 20 years, according to the UAPD.
The union vote boosts UAPD membership above 5,000. And the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the UAPD's parent organization, now has more than 12,000 physician members, says UAPD Executive Director Gary Robinson.
The vote came one week after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a group of private practice physicians in New Jersey could not legally bargain collectively. The physicians had argued that the local HMO exerted so much control over their practices that they are de facto employees (see June, page 6).
Los Angeles physicians contacted the UAPD in 1996 following layoffs, restructuring and outsourcing of some physicians' jobs to the private sector, says Janice Nelson, M.D., medical director of the blood bank and transfusion service at LAC-University of Southern California Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Nelson says when she became a doctor she never imagined she would join a union.
"It seems more and more physicians' voices are becoming insignificant when it comes to critical decisionmaking about patient care," she says.
More than 500 of the county's physicians are affiliated with local medical schools, including UCLA.
At the University of Connecticut School of Medicine late last month, 65% of faculty physicians voted against joining the UAPD. Interest remains, however, and the topic is likely to come up again, a university spokesman says. Under state law, the faculty must wait one year before trying another vote, he says.