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County doctors hope to unionize

Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by LORI RACKL Health Reporter

Nearly 600 doctors in the Cook County health system will announce today their plan to form a union -- a move they hope will give them a stronger voice as county officials prepare to wield the budget ax.
Representatives for physicians at Stroger Hospital, Cook County Jail and a network of county health clinics filed petitions Friday with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The doctors want to join a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, the nation's largest health care workers union.
"There are significant changes headed for our workplace, and we have no collective voice," said Dr. Peter Orris, a Stroger Hospital physician and member of the organizing committee.
Previous attempt shot down
Facing a projected $500 million deficit, County Board President Todd Stroger has asked department heads to lop 17 percent off their budgets. This could mean shuttering most of the county's outpatient clinics -- one of the proposals raised by county health officials Monday, Orris said. Potential cuts are driving the desire to organize, he said, so county doctors can protect their jobs and have more say in work conditions and patient care.
This isn't the first time Cook County Hospital physicians have tried to unionize. The labor board shot down an attempt about 10 years ago, saying the doctors were ineligible because they are supervisors.
Since then, other physicians in the county health system -- those at Oak Forest Hospital, for example -- have been allowed to organize. The nearly 600 doctors who filed petitions Friday are hoping to get a similar go-ahead from Stroger.
SEIU Local 20 President Byron Hobbs said he broached the topic with Stroger during the campaign. SEIU members contributed $50,000 to the future county board president's coffers. "He indicated he would not be opposed to the doctors forming a union," Hobbs said.


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