Local

MultiCare physicians form union in Auburn, organizers say Tacoma could be next

Dr. Virginia Stowell successfully led the drive to start a local chapter of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists at MultiCare’s Auburn Medical Center. The Tacoman now plans to help lead union drives at MultiCare’s other area hospitals and clinics.
Dr. Virginia Stowell successfully led the drive to start a local chapter of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists at MultiCare’s Auburn Medical Center. The Tacoman now plans to help lead union drives at MultiCare’s other area hospitals and clinics. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Physicians at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center overwhelmingly voted to unionize with the Union of American Physicians and Dentists last week.

Now, one of the local leaders of the unionization effort is set on unionizing other facilities operated by the Tacoma-based nonprofit health care provider.

“It seemed like Auburn was the most ripe for being our first small bargaining unit, but we have a lot more work to do,” said Virginia Stowell, a general surgeon at MultiCare and a 20-year Tacoma resident. “We’re planning on, bit by bit, organizing all of the MultiCare facilities and clinics.”

MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards issued a statement Tuesday in response to the successful unionization attempt.

“We recognize that employees have the right to form or join a union and we fully respect their decision,” she wrote. “We are evaluating our next steps in this process to determine how best to move forward.”

Edwards had no comment in response to the possible unionization of other MultiCare facilities, or to why MultiCare facilities in particular were being targeted for unionization.

Auburn Medical Center became the first private facility in Washington state with unionized physicians after a 33-3 vote of the 77 people who could vote, according to Theodros Gashaw, an organizer with the Oakland, California-based Union of American Physicians and Dentists.

The National Labor Relations Board certified the vote Oct. 12.

The next step for the new union is to set up dates to formally negotiate a contract with MultiCare, Gashaw said.

Stowell said the drive to unionize MultiCare facilities is because physicians perceive they are having a lesser effect on patient care.

“The decisions for the physicians appear to be cost-driven,” she said. “Although MultiCare has been very successful, with a good profit margin, it still seems that there have been decisions made that put profits over patients care.”

Gashaw said MultiCare tried to “game up the vote” by adding cardiologists — who he said represent themselves — into the pool of physicians who could choose whether to unionize.

Asked about Gashaw’s statement, Edwards said in an email, “The names provided for the voting were consistent with the ruling of the NLRB regional director.”

Gashaw said Tacoma General Hospital might be where the union focuses its attention next.

“Tacoma General is a site where we’ve had a lot of interest, and we may very well be filing in the near future,” he said.

Stowell said she is happy she and her co-workers again will be able to have “real discussion” about issues affecting them, including staffing levels, work hours and productivity requirements.

“It really does seem that the only way we can regain a voice is to organize as a group to force — ‘force’ is a strong word — but to force MultiCare to have conversations at the table about these issues,” she said.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker

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