Generally speaking, most healthcare employers would not think that their employed physicians are at risk for unionization. As opposed to interns and residents, who have experienced their own unionization push in the past several years, employed or “staff” physicians supervise nurses and other medical providers and direct the day-to-day operations of healthcare services. They are regarded as “management” and part of leadership within most hospitals. Thus, many hospital administrators naturally assume that physicians are seen as “supervisors” under the law, and like other supervisors, would be barred from seeking to organize or join a union under the National Labor Relations Act. Doctors certainly should not be allowed to seek union representation, like their nurse colleagues, since the positions are fundamentally different. Simple, right?
Maybe not. One NLRB Regional Director recently reinforced the argument that physicians, and other highly-credentialed medical providers, are not supervisors simply by virtue of their position near the top of healthcare institution chain of command – and can in fact seek to organize. They could also be part of the same unit with other staff. On January 21, 2022, in Piedmont Health Services, Inc. and Piedmont Health Services Medical Providers United, Case 10-RC-286648, the NLRB directed an election of a proposed bargaining unit consisting of physicians, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants. Supervisors are of course excluded from the proposed unit, but, as will be explained below, the NLRB in this case draws a clear line between what constitutes a supervisor when it comes to medical providers, and what does not.