Union representatives and supporters may make claims they can’t back up to persuade you to sign a union authorization document or to support the union.
What you might hear versus the facts:
“We will make sure you don’t have to use decontaminated PPE and can get an N95 whenever you want one.”
Unions have no control over PPE supplies. Consider the numerous unionized hospitals in New York that nonetheless experienced shortages during the early days of COVID-19.
“Try the union for a while. If you don’t like it, we’ll leave.”
Unlike politicians, unions never have to run for re-election. A union is in place indefinitely. Once a union is voted in, the only way to vote it out is through a complex process called decertification.
“Everyone in your program has signed authorization forms but you!”
If everyone else had signed, the union wouldn’t need your signature. The decision to sign or to not sign a union authorization form is a personal one. It should be based strictly on whether you want union representation, not on the union’s statements about other residents.
“If you support the union, we can help with your visa and get you here faster.”
The union has no standing to help international residents with their visa status. As your employer, MedStar Health is the visa sponsor, applies for the visa on your behalf, and provides legal support during the process.
“You need to fill out this form so we can send you information about the union.”
Unions may claim you need to sign an online form or other document to get more information about the union or attend a meeting. That is not the case. Information about unions is widely available online or from your Program Director, GME or Human Resources.
“If you support hazard pay for health care workers, sign this petition to demand Congress recognize your sacrifice and do what’s right and fair.”
Unions often attempt to leverage “hot topics” (most recently hazard pay, PPE, and racial justice) as a way to engage those they are trying to organize. Always read the fine print to understand the true purpose of the document you’re being asked to sign and the potential legal implications of doing so.
Why are we talking about unions? I haven’t heard anything about union organizing here.
Some residents have raised questions about “organizing” with or without a union. Because the decision to have third party representation can have a significant impact on our GME program and your working relationships with GME leaders, we want to provide you with the information you may need if faced with the decision to sign a union petition or other type of authorization form. We respect every resident’s right to decide whether or not to support unionization, but believe it is important that these decisions be made with a thorough understanding of what union representation could mean to you.
How does union organizing work?
Union organizing is a multi-step process during which a labor union works to convince employees to vote in the union as their exclusive representative in the workplace. First, union “organizers” try to collect signed authorization forms from the employees they seek to represent. By signing one of these documents – which could be a card, petition or online form – you are authorizing the union to be your sole and exclusive representative at work.
If a union tried to organize at MedStar GME, it would have to get signatures from at least 30% of the residents and fellows to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a secret ballot election that would determine whether all residents and fellows would be represented by the union. As with a political election, the outcome would be determined by a simple majority of those who vote.
Why should I care if my colleagues want a union? It won’t impact me; I just won’t join.
While no one can be forced to join a union, if elected, the union would nonetheless represent ALL MedStar residents and fellows in D.C. and MD. There is no opting out of representation. So, even if you decided to not formally join the union, you would still be subject to the terms and conditions negotiated in the union contract and would be required to pay dues or an agency fee to keep your job at MedStar as outlined in the contract.
How much would I have to pay in union dues if a union is elected?
CIR-SEIU dues are the equivalent of 1.6% of your salary. At current PGY salaries, that totals nearly $1,000 a year for a PGY-1 and up to $1,344 a year for a PGY-8. Across the entire GME program, union would bring in more than $3.5 million from MedStar residents and fellows over a typical three-year contract.
How much money are unions required to spend on those they represent?
Unions are not required by law to use the dues they collect from members on behalf of those members. Dues revenue is the principal source of income for unions, and they use members’ dues to pay their leaders and union staff, to support their political activities, to finance organizing campaigns at other facilities. According to financial reporting required by the Department of Labor, the CIR-SEIU spends 65.5% of their members’ dues money on administrative costs or running its business.
Can we try out the union for a while, and then tell them to leave if they don’t like it?
Once the union is voted in, it is very difficult to vote the union out. The process is complex and would require residents and fellows to gather enough signatures to file a petition for a decertification election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Residents and fellows would be responsible for initiating and organizing this effort on their own; according to the law, MedStar could not assist.
I support policies that promote racial equity and social justice in healthcare. Would a union give residents a stronger voice on that subject?
There are many social justice organizations that you can participate in that would not impose the obligations, costs, and constraints of a labor union. Unlike other advocacy organizations, a labor union would be your sole and exclusive voice on all employment matters and would likely demand a clause in the contract with MedStar that would require you to pay union dues or an agency fee as a condition of your employment.
I am getting texts from someone I don’t know asking me to support the union. How did the union get my personal contact information? Did MedStar provide it?
No, MedStar has not shared your contact information with a labor union. Unions often buy mailing lists from affiliated organizations, from academic organizations or collect data from online petitions or surveys that you may have completed. In some cases, colleagues who support the union may share the contact information of others in their program. While there is rarely an option to “unsubscribe,” you can block the number or ask the sender to remove you from the list.
If I signed a union authorization form, card or petition and change my mind, can I get it back or rescind my authorization?
The union isn’t required to return your signed authorization document even if you signed without understanding the implications or later change your mind. You can try to rescind your authorization by sending a letter via certified mail to the union’s local office along with a copy to the National Labor Relations Board regional office. You also can attempt to revoke the card by asking the organizer to return it, but they have no obligation to do so.
Unions say that collective bargaining begins with our current pay and benefits and can only go up. Is that true?
No. Collective bargaining is a give and take process where you could get the same, more or less than you have now. Regardless of the outcome of bargaining, you would still have to pay union dues or an agency fee as outlined in the contract. There are no guarantees in collective bargaining.
What rights do I have if I don’t want to sign a union authorization document or to be represented by a union?
You have the right not to sign an authorization document, and to not be coerced or threatened by any union organizer or supporter. If you feel you are being coerced or threatened to sign a document or support a union, you have the right to tell the individual you are not interested, to report this to your Program Director or GME, or file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Where can residents and fellows get more information about issues relating to unions and organizing?