Ballots in a union election for more than 70 physicians at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., were counted on Aug. 1. Despite vocal opposition from Providence executives in the run-up to the vote, 87 percent of the doctors voted in favor of unionization. Hospitalists at St. Vincent will now gain collective bargaining rights—meaning the hospital administration will be obligated to meet and negotiate in good faith with the doctors over their wages, benefits and working conditions.
The doctors join the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, an existing hospitalists union represented by AFT Nurses and Health Professionals and serviced by the Oregon Nurses Association.
“We are embracing this opportunity to form our union. We want to redefine our relationship with the hospital system, which has increasingly put our concerns aside as it aims to meet corporate priorities. We wish to come face-to-face as respected health professionals to address important issues in the safe delivery of patient care, and to address the sustainability of our current working conditions,” says Shirley Fox, an obstetrics hospitalist at Providence St. Vincent.
Since the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon healthcare workers’ unions have been leading a nationwide effort to improve pay and working conditions in hospitals. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed landmark legislation, House Bill 2697, establishing the best hospital staffing standards in the country.
“Our hospitalist physicians were at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, and though it is by and large over, the pandemic has uncovered many different issues in our healthcare system. More people have delayed or lost access to care, and as a result we are seeing more patients with more complex issues than we ever have before. A physician union will help us advocate for what matters to us most: quality, appropriate care for our patients,” says Ben Babb, a night shift hospitalist at Providence St. Vincent.
Although unionized nurses have been advocating for better pay, benefits and patient care for more than a century, new groups of healthcare workers are now joining or forming their own unions in large numbers. Twenty years ago, few attending physicians in the U.S. were part of a union, but as healthcare systems have grown bigger and more corporate, doctors see collective bargaining as the best way to ensure their voices are heard in decisions that affect their profession and their patients.
[Adrienne Coles, Oregon Nurses Association press release]