Allina hospital doctors file for union election in first for Minnesota

By: - February 15, 2023 7:59 pm

Allina Health Mercy Hospital Unity Campus in Fridley. Courtesy photo.

Physicians at Allina Health Mercy Hospital have filed a petition with federal authorities to hold a union election in a rare organizing push by highly paid medical professionals.

If successful, the group of 150 physicians would be the first doctors’ union in the state and only the second private-sector union in Minnesota to include physicians. (About a dozen medical providers including doctors, physician assistants and nurses at Lake Superior Community Health Center unionized in 2013. Doctors at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center are also in a union.)

“Working in health care has gotten a lot harder,” said Melissa Touroutoutoudis, a critical care doctor at Mercy Hospital. “We really don’t feel like we have any say in what decisions are made about how we’re going to do our jobs (and) how that’s going to impact patients.”

The doctors filed their petition to unionize with Doctors Council SEIU with support from about 70% of the bargaining unit, far surpassing the National Labor Relations Board’s 30% minimum requirement to hold an election. The new union would represent physicians at Mercy Hospital’s two campuses in Coon Rapids and Fridley.

The unionization effort by Allina doctors comes amid a surge in labor activity in health care and on the heels of the largest private-sector nurses strike in U.S. history, which included Allina’s Mercy Hospital.

In a statement, Allina Health said: “We deeply respect and value our physicians, their contributions to our organization, and the critical services they provide our community … We respect their rights as employees to support or oppose a union.”

Touroutoutoudis said the COVID-19 pandemic was a turning point for physicians who say they were pushed to burn-out from having to take care of two or three times as many patients as usual with little support.

Few doctors are unionized across the country, a function of doctors historically owning their own practices. That has changed dramatically in recent years, as health care consolidation has squeezed out small private practices and more hospitals have chosen to employ doctors directly.

A study sponsored by the Physicians Advocacy Institute found that the share of physicians employed by hospitals, health systems or corporate entities grew from 62% in 2019 to 74% in 2022.

Doctors report that the same factors driving nurses to the picket lines across the country – short-staffing and “moral injury” — are also affecting them.

“People who are spending a decade or more training to do these jobs are now wondering, a few years in, is this right? Do I want to keep doing this? And that’s a terrible thing,” Touroutoutoudis said.

*This story has been corrected to reflect that doctors at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center are also members of a union.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.