Physicians unionize, predict health care revolution
May 29, 1999
Web posted at: 4:56 a.m. EDT (0856 GMT)
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In a move that some predict could have a profound impact on the health system, 800 doctors have voted to unionize, as a way to wrest control of health care from politicians and insurance companies.
The physicians, employed by Los Angeles County, voted to join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists.
Organizers called the physicians' vote the start of a "revolution." It was the largest group of doctors to take such a step in 18 years, the organizers said.
The vote was 338 to 182 out of a group of more than 500 doctors who took part in the vote.
"This revolution is going to spread like wildfire throughout the country," said Dr Louis Simpson at a news conference following the vote. "Doctors are upset, they are angry and they are frustrated. We are getting calls every day to join the union."
Simpson said the outcome was inevitable in a county where administrators were forced to make "cuts and more cuts" in hospital budgets despite an ever-growing patient load.
He predicted that doctors across the country were prepared to unionize over the same issues.
"Health care in this country is in a rut," Simpson said. "The system doesn't care, politicians don't listen and insurance companies are looking only at the bottom line."
The news conference was held in front the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, touted as having one of the busiest emergency room in the nation.
Its facade is familiar to millions of television viewers who tune in to the daytime soap opera "General Hospital." The show uses a shot of the building as its opening.
Doctors and union officials said the giant hospital represents their core concerns, which include job security, deteriorating working conditions and a need to improve patient care for indigent populations.
"We're going to see some real changes around here, and we're going to start with preserving patient compassion," said Dr Dan Lawlor, a key organizer of the union effort.
Lawlor said county doctors, who earn between $85,000 and $130,000 a year, did not unionize over pay issues and had no thoughts of striking over contract disputes.
"We don't want to run the county into a deficit," he said.
Lawlor said more important topics include negotiating how many patients doctors are required to treat at a given time, safety in the workplace and hiring adequate support staff.
"This vote means a whole new force of medical professionals will have a major influence on health care policy," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Union of American Physicians and Dentists
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