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More than 150 Legacy doctors vote to unionize

Votes occurred at six of Legacy's eight hospitals as organizers stressed workplace changes and a possible merger with OHSU
Legacy Health Good Samaritan Medical Center in Northwest Portland, Ore., on July 30, 2023. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
November 17, 2023

After months of organizing, 156 more Oregon doctors are officially union members. That brings the state total for unionized doctors to more than 1,000, according to Kevin Mealy, spokesperson for the Oregon Nurses Association, which holds the contract to provide services to the doctors union.

“Doctors in Oregon and across the country see unions as a way to improve health care and push back against the corporatization of medicine,” Mealy said. “And that’s a good thing. We know docs and nurses at the bedside are patients’ most important advocates.”

Votes were held this week at six of the system’s eight hospitals – Meridian Park, Mt. Hood, Good Samaritan, Salmon Creek, Randall Children’s, Emmanuel. The official count came in on Friday morning at 97% in favor of unionizing, according to Mealy. Just five doctors voted against.

Several hospitals, including Mt. Hood and Meridian Park had zero no votes. There was no vote scheduled at Unity Health Center, where practitioners are primarily physicians assistants or nurse practitioners, or at Legacy Silverton Medical Center, where there did not appear to be sufficient support to unionize at this time.

Each group of hospitalists, the term for medical doctors employed by a hospital rather than in private practice, will bargain on their own for favorable contract terms. The new 16- to 57-person hospital-based groups plan to work together to standardize things like paid time off and health insurance benefits across the system.

“Legacy Health respects the rights of our employees to choose whether or not to be represented by a union, and we appreciate the continued hard work and dedication of our hospitalists, who play a vital role in delivering high-quality care to our patients and communities,” said Ryan Frank, a spokesperson for Legacy, in a statement to the Lund Report. “We are committed to establishing a productive dialogue with the union representatives that will be working with Legacy on behalf of these providers."

The Legacy doctors are now part of the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. That large national union has historically represented college faculty, but has been expanding into health care recently. 

Union organizers at Legacy have said that the increasingly corporate nature of hospital leadership and doctors’ relatively new status as employees of those hospitals makes it necessary to join together to protect their working conditions. They see union membership as a chance to have more control over what they are responsible for at work. That control, they argue, will help them ensure ethically sound, high quality care for the patients they see.

They also hope a union will protect them in the upcoming merger with Oregon Health & Science University and give them a seat at the table to fight proposals by Legacy to increase the number of hours a doctor must work to be considered full-time.

Legacy’s finances have not been especially strong in the years since the pandemic. This is due to several factors, including patients needing more care and statewide health care staffing shortages providing fewer discharge options. A video released by Legacy this summer explains their plans to create a more efficient system in an effort to shore up their financial situation. 

Doctors across Oregon have become increasingly unionized in recent years. Doctors at Providence St. Vincent’s in Portland voted to unionize earlier this year. Physicians and other workers at St. Charles Medical Group in Bend filed to unionize last year, but withdrew their petition in February.