Should these physicians join a union?

May 2, 2008

I'm one of several physicians employed by a hospital. None of us are supervisors. When we asked for a raise, the hospital cut off negotiations and threatened to fire us. Can we form a union to negotiate for better wages?

I'm one of several physicians employed by a hospital. None of us are supervisors. When we asked for a raise, the hospital cut off negotiations and threatened to fire us. Can we form a union to negotiate for better wages?

Possibly, provided you're truly employees and not just independent physicians working at the hospital. If that's the case, your right to form a union depends on who owns the hospital.

If it's a state-owned hospital, you have the right to form a union under the First Amendment's right of association. And that union can negotiate for you-if your state is one of those that require a public employer to engage in collective bargaining with its employees. Not all do.

When a hospital is privately owned, the National Labor Relations Act regulates employees' rights to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. Still, the hospital may not threaten or fire workers for trying to improve their wages; the NLRA protects employees' rights to act together to improve their situation, even in the absence of a union. But the hospital is not obligated to negotiate unless employees have designated a union to represent them.

This answer to our reader's question was provided by: Barbara Fick, Assoc. Professor, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, IN

Send your practice management questions to: PMQA Editor, Medical Economics, 123 Tice Blvd., Suite 300,Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677-7664, or send an e-mail to mepractice@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address).