D.C. Superior Court Judge Nicholas Nunzio yesterday ordered a union representation election among the 157 full-time staff doctors at D.C. General Hospital, turning down the objections of city officials who sought to block the union vote.
The District government is opposing efforts by the majority of D.C. General doctors to form a union, arguing that it would interfere with hospital operations because most of the doctors are managerial employes who supervise staff and participate in policy decisions.
If the doctors vote to unionize, D.C. General would become one of the few public hospitals in the country where full-time staff doctors are unionized, according to the D.C. office of labor relations.
While ordering the city Public Employee Relations Board to take steps within 20 days to conduct the vote, Nunzio said he would hear on Nov. 28 a challenge by the city, which seeks to overturn or modify a PERB ruling that made all but a dozen doctors eligible for union membership.
Meanwhile, a second group of roughly 200 physicians, dentists and podiatrists employed by the city's Human Services and Corrections Departments has also filed petitions with PERB to unionize, and city officials are readying arguments against some of those doctors.
Doctors at D.C. General, the city's only public hospital, are dissatisfied with salaries that are capped at $63,700 per year and they also want a greater role in attempts to improve patient care, according to a spokesman for the Doctors' Council of D.C. General, an independent union organized last year. The doctors earn an average of $60,000 yearly, according to the city.
District officials argue that a broad-based doctors' union would interfere with the orderly management of the financially troubled 500-bed facility in Southeast.
PERB, which oversees D.C. government labor relations, last April upheld the doctors' unionization petition and authorized an election.
But PERB last month filed a complaint in Superior Court against the D.C. General Hospital Commission for failing to carry out the election. The hospital commission had argued that because of the "collegial governance" of the hospital, most of the physicians shared with their colleagues the management of the hospital and therefore should not be allowed to unionize.
But PERB ruled that only the medical director and a dozen department heads were actually managerial, while nearly 160 others were entitled to union representation. The city's appeal of that decision will be considered Nov. 28.
"We do not oppose formation of a union," Dr. Lawrence Johnson, the hospital medical director, said last week, "We are merely filing an appeal of the decision of the PERB on the grounds that it would not be an effective bargaining unit and would not be appropriate."
Abraham L. Zwerdling, lawyer for the Doctors' Council, said that "the doctors' patience has really run out" since they filed petitions more than a year ago.
City officials have said they intend to try to remedy the doctors' complaints about pay. David Rivers, director of the Department of Human Services, has said the city is considering $10,000 pay increases.