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Opinion: It's Time for Doctors to Unionize

By MedPage Today  
   February 23, 2018

Physicians' bargaining power has fallen far below the value of their effort.

This article first appeared February 22, 2018 on Medpage Today.

By Niran S. Al-Agba, MD

Since the birth of our nation, labor unions have existed in one form or another in the United States. Unions are a force to protect the "working population" from inequality, gaps in wages, and a political system failing to represent specific industry groups. Historically, unions organize skilled workers in a specific corporation, such as a railroad or production plant.

However, unions can organize numerous workers within a particular industry. Known as "industrial unionism," the union gives a profession or trade a collective and representative voice. The existence of unions has already been woven into the political, economic, and cultural fabric of America; recent events suggest that it may be time for physicians and surgeons to unionize.

A labor union is a body of workers who come together to achieve common objectives, such as improved safety, higher pay, benefits, and better working conditions. Union leadership bargains with employers on behalf of union members to negotiate labor contracts (collective bargaining.) This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, and regulations governing hiring, firing, promotion, or workplace policies.

In 2010, the percentage of workers belonging to a union in the U.S. was 11.4%, compared with 27.5% in Canada. There are strong, causal links between a diminished proportion of the workforce unionizing and loss of worker bargaining power. Obviously, the leadership of corporations prefers workers having less leverage while negotiating; unions allege this employer-incited opposition has contributed to the decline in membership over time.

However, the popularity of unions is growing, according to a January 2017 survey conducted by Pew, which found that 60% view unionization favorably. More than half of young, millennial Republicans are in favor of unions as well, something that would have been shocking a decade ago. Maybe the time is right for physicians to unionize?

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