Allina Health doctors unionize over health system’s objections

The certification is the latest win for doctors’ unions, as momentum picks up in physician organizing.

Article By: Susanna Vogel

Blog Source From : https://www.healthcaredive.com/

Dive Brief:

  • The National Labor Relations Board has certified the union election of more than 130 Allina Health doctors at Mercy and Unity Hospitals, nearly a year after they voted to join the Doctors Council Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
  • The certification follows objections from the Minneapolis-based nonprofit health system, which said that physicians active in the union drive held supervisor or managerial positions and may have unlawfully pressured colleagues into supporting the union. The NLRB rejected that claim.
  • It’s another victory for Doctors Council SEIU at Allina facilities. In October, more than 500 Allina doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners at over 60 facilities voted to join the union, according to NLRB documents.

Dive Insight:

Allina doctors and physician assistants said that chronic understaffing, high levels of burnout and compromised patient safety due to the corporatization of care motivated them to seek union representation.

“We have been seeing the shift of healthcare control going to corporations and further and further away from patient voices and patient advocacy. That really fell apart during the pandemic,” said Allina physician Liz Koffel during a press conference on Aug. 15 announcing primary care physicians’ unionization drive.

Koffel detailed workplace grievances that she said occurred due to Allina’s push for profits, including high productivity demands backed by few support staff and the health system’s now-abandoned policy of interrupting non-emergency medical care for patients with high levels of debt

In a statement to Healthcare Dive, an Allina spokesperson said the system had “committed to taking steps to make sure the National Labor Relations Board’s process was fair to all involved,” and that it would not take further procedural action against the union.

Across the country, physicians’ feelings of limited autonomy is driving similar interest in unionization, according to John August, director of healthcare labor relations at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. 

“Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole career — where so many people are saying exactly the same thing at the same time, from a profession that heretofore has been essentially not unionized,” he said.

Although doctors have historically shown little interest in unionization — the physician unionization rate was under 6% nationwide in 2021 — the tide is beginning to turn. 

Doctors are increasingly working in consolidated hospitals owned by larger health systems or private equity firms. They report consolidation limits the influence they have on their day-to-day jobs, according to a December study from the Physician Advocacy Institute.

In addition, other options, such as physician-owned practices, are disappearing, with the percentage of owned practices falling 13% between 2012 and 2022, according to an analysis from the American Medical Association.

Elsewhere in the healthcare industry, unionization and strikes have led to gains for workers.

Last year, nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital successfully negotiated nurse-to-patient ratios by holding the picket line for nearly four months in New Jersey, and more than 75,000 healthcare workers secured a 20% raise over four years at Kaiser Permanente by staging the largest healthcare strike in recent history.

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