Hospitalists at Legacy Health voted overwhelmingly to unionize as members of the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, marking another victory for organized labor in the health care industry.
Hospitalists are physicians who care only for hospital inpatients. Legacy has about 200 of them at five locations, including Emanuel Hospital in Northeast Portland. The voting results across the five locations ranged from 88.5% to 100% in favor. The union needed just a simple majority at each location.
Don Tran, president of Legacy Medical Group, had discouraged the hospitalists from unionizing. Today, he sent an email to employees saying: “We respect the rights of all of our employees—across all Legacy facilities and roles—to choose whether or not to be represented by a union. While our preference is to maintain open and direct communications with our employees, we are committed to establishing a productive dialogue with the union representatives that will be working with Legacy on behalf of these providers that will now be unionized.”
In September, doctors, nurses and physician assistants at Legacy Health informed CEO Kathryn Correia that they planned to unionize, in part because of “grave concerns” about Oregon Health & Science University’s effort to purchase Legacy, its struggling crosstown rival. OHSU plans to take over Legacy in a deal that would form the Portland metro area’s largest employer, with 32,000 doctors, nurses and other staff, and 10 hospitals.
Organizers at Legacy pared back their plans to focus on hospitalists first. The push is the latest, largest effort to unionize workers at Legacy. In August, staff at Legacy’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health voted to unionize with the Oregon Nurses Association, following nurses at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham. Nurses at Legacy Silverton Medical Center are unionized, too.
Legacy has struggled financially in recent years in part because of higher labor costs. Legacy lost $172 million from operations in the fiscal year that ended March 31, on revenue of $2.6 billion.