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Unionization Vote Begins Today
At UConn Health Center

By Robert A. Frahm, The Hartford Courant, 15 December 2000

Faculty pay will be among the issues for doctors at the University of Connecticut's medical and dental schools as they begin voting today on whether to form a union.

Pro- and anti-union forces have cranked up public relations campaigns, including a letter this week from the head of the UConn Health Center warning that a union—a rarity in medical schools—would be a disaster.

Voting began this morning and will conclude at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

After failing in a similar vote 18 months ago, organizers will try again to create a union to represent the 484 physicians, dentists and researchers at the health center in Farmington.

Organizers say the union would give faculty members a greater voice in faculty pay and job security and protect them from bearing the brunt of the health center's continuing financial difficulties.

This puts the doctors back in control and takes back an element of total control from the administration, said Dr. Robert L. Weinmann, president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, a California-based group that has assisted with the organizing drive at UConn.

The center has struggled over the past year to pull its budget out of the red by eliminating jobs and repackaging itself to attract more patients and state money. It received a $20 million bailout from the legislature last spring on top of the $72 million state subsidy that was already part of its budget.

The health center's administration remains vigorously opposed to a union, saying it could halt progress toward financial stability.

The adoption of such an unproven, untested experiment, specifically a faculty union, anywhere in academic medicine, but especially at the UConn Health Center ... would be a disaster, Peter J. Deckers, UConn's executive vice president for health affairs, wrote to faculty members.

As a practicing physician now for 34 years, Deckers added, I find faculty unionization simply wrong at any time because it insults my concept of professionalism in medicine.

A central issue in the union drive has been a faculty salary proposal that would pay professors based on performance.

The faculty at UConn's main campus at Storrs operate under a union contract, but professors at the medical and dental schools do not.

Many of the faculty are not being paid well when they are compared to the Storrs faculty, said Dr. David Dorsky, an assistant professor at the medical school.

Professors' pay at the health center ranges from roughly $70,000 a year to well over $200,000, generally higher than faculty salaries at Storrs, said Jim Walter, a spokesman for the health center. However, some have gone without raises for at least two years while the health center has struggled to balance its budget.

Walter said the pay-for-performance proposal was developed with advice from faculty committees, but Dorsky said that faculty were brought in only to give the illusion of faculty input.

Dorsky said the plan does not provide for appeals or for peer review and is not what the faculty wants. Dorsky was optimistic the faculty would agree to form a union despite what he described as a great deal of fear and intimidation in the anti-union campaign.

In June 1999, doctors at the health center rejected an attempt to form a union, voting 250-169 against it.

Administrators trace the health center's financial problems mainly to a changing health care marketplace that has pinched the budgets of medical schools across the country.

In particular, they cite the difficulty of operating the center's 204-bed Dempsey Hospital, the nation's smallest academic teaching hospital, where losses in the late 1990s were as high as $1 million a month.