Doctors, nurses at two MultiCare urgent care clinic chains file papers to form union

Doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at nearly two dozen urgent care clinics owned by MultiCare, including Indigo, are in the process of unionizing.
Doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at nearly two dozen urgent care clinics owned by MultiCare, including Indigo, are in the process of unionizing. Staff file, 2016

Doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at nearly two-dozen urgent care clinics owned by MultiCare are in the process of unionizing with the Union of American Physicians and Dentists.

Employees who work at MultiCare clinics from Mill Creek to Olympia signed papers to form a union, which were turned in last week. In all, about 80 workers could become part of the two separate bargaining units if they later vote in favor in a few months.

Last year, Dr. Virginia Stowell, a general surgeon at MultiCare, helped organize another MultiCare facility, Auburn Medical Center. That group remains in negotiations with MultiCare on its first union contract.

Of urgent care center workers, Stowell said, “their issues and concerns are falling upon deaf ears when they try to raise issues with the administration.”

The California-based union filed two petitions with the National Labor Relations Board last week to call for a vote of employees at two of MultiCare’s three urgent care clinic chains, each with its own bargaining unit. The units would include those at MultiCare’s legacy urgent care centers, which have operated for more than 15 years, and at Indigo Urgent Care clinics, which debuted last year.

“The happiness and well-being of our MultiCare team members are always top priorities,” said MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards in an emailed statement. “We don't think a union is a necessary or productive addition to our relationship with the providers and we urge all eligible providers to vote against representation by this California union.”

Edwards said MultiCare has plans to open seven more Indigo clinics this year.

Dr. Robert Stuart and nurse practitioner Brittany Connolly started working for Indigo when its first clinic opened last summer across from Tacoma Community College. Stuart and Connolly said in separate interviews that they were promised vacation days and pay that changed after they signed contracts.

Unionizing the workplace will give them leverage they want against management for what they see as a bait and switch.

Edwards did not respond to questions about the working conditions and declined a phone interview.

Looking to the example of the Auburn union, Stuart said he started talking to other urgent care employees. Forming a union would give them leverage against MultiCare, which, he said, can fire them without cause and no chance for appeal. A two-year, non-compete clause in contracts means doctors have to move long distances to find work again, he said.

Workers for MultiCare’s Immediate Care Clinics, which the nonprofit hospital system acquired last year, are not among those who signed papers to form the union. Stuart said he was unable to speak to doctors there.

On Monday, the union, MultiCare and NLRB will meet to determine the scope of workers who might be in the bargaining units, a process that could take a few months. After that, workers will vote.

“We are not going to be stopping here either,” Stowell said. “We are going to continue to pursue other areas of MultiCare for (union) organization.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports