American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Los Angeles County Doctors Vote Decisively To Unionize

In a victory for organized labor, officials announced Friday, May 28, 1999, at a press conference on the steps of LAC+USC Medical Center (known as "General Hospital") that Los Angeles County's doctors have become the largest U.S. group of physicians to unionize under the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD). In the audience were medical center leaders including the chief of staff, as well as representatives of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU has also recently approached physicians at the medical center.

Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, recently reported the following excerpts concerning the vote:

The nationally watched election culminated a three-year campaign to organize the county's 800 physicians.in the wake of the county government's massive effort to restructure its Department of Health Services. More than 500 physicians cast their votes, and the final tally to join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists was 341-182. Union leaders, who had predicted an extremely close election, were ebullient over their margin of victory.

The county's focus on the bottom line and its recent cost-cutting drives are reportedly what spurred the vote to unionize. The same motivation has prompted a growing number of physicians to organize nationwide as a backlash against managed care. Friday's vote also mirrors a nationwide jump in physicians' enrollment in unions, which many attribute to the dwindling fees and loss of control over patient care resulting from the managed care revolution. About 6% of the nation's 600,000 practicing physicians are unionized.

The physician membership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the umbrella labor group that includes the UAPD, has quintupled in the last four years. The SEIU has also kicked off a $1 million nationwide organizing drive this spring.

As a result of the high-profile Los Angeles effort, leaders of the physicians union-which, with the local group, now represents 6,000 doctors-say they have been contacted by physicians and are organizing nationwide. They predicted rapid expansion of their ranks.

Notoriously independent-minded, however, physicians have historically looked askance at unions, and organizing doctors is considered to be one of the tougher tasks in labor circles. The job got tougher this month when, in a New Jersey case, the National Labor Relations Board upheld its policy that fee-for-service physicians are not eligible to organize.

Still, salaried doctors such as those employed by public health systems or private hospitals are up for grabs, and labor leaders say it is important to enroll those people in unions. The push is part of a drive to unionize more white-collar workers in an era of downsizing.

The Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD) can be reached at: 1330 Broadway, Suite 730, Oakland, CA 94612-2506, Tel: (800) 622-0909, Web: http://www.uapd.com.