Our Perennial War-Part VII

Doctors are now unionizing–it’s about time!

Labor Updates: Minor Children and MDs

My recent posts have been about the history of labor struggles, how the owning class stays in control of labor, and the role of labor unions. Today I will share a couple of updates on the current state of labor in the United States.

Not content with allowing children to work in poultry plants and lumber mills or on roofs, legislators in GOP-dominated states now want them serving liquor in bars and restaurants. West Virginia and Iowa have lowered the age for this kind of employment to 16, Michigan to 17, and Wisconsin wants to lower it to 14.

Since waiters are tipped workers they already receive sub-minimum wages and must kowtow to customers to make a living. Now think about a 14-year-old girl serving drinks to adult males who are already drunk, enduring sexual harassment, groping, or even worse, and having to smile and smile for that tip.

Many employers in this industry aren’t even waiting for legal changes. According to a Department of Labor report, nearly two-thirds—64%—of the 16,000 documented child labor violations over the past five years were committed by food service employers.

Exploiting children isn’t happening only in red states. Just this week NBC News reported that a Los Angeles poultry processing plant had hired children as young as 14 to debone the birds with sharp knives. The kids worked six days a week, and were hidden in closets when inspectors showed up. On top of that, the bosses cheated the children (and adult workers) out of their wages.

There’s some positive news as well, news I’ve been waiting for. This October, according to the New York Times, a group of 400 physicians and 150 nurse practitioners and physician assistants voted to join the SEIU.  So far that’s the largest group of doctors to unionize. They’re employed by Allina Health System, a so-called non-profit corporation in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Allina paid its four hospital CEOs a total of $10.41 million in 2019. Twenty-four other executives received $1 million each in that year, the latest for which I have figures. (Compare the remuneration of CEOs to the wages of people who actually do patient care: the average annual salary for an Allina physician is $200,815. Nurses average $40.89/hr.)

The doctors aren’t complaining about money, though. Their grievance is about staff shortages that force them to spend two extra hours per evening doing clerical work, and recent length-of-stay guidelines that prevent them from giving proper attention to patients with complex needs.

Think four years of college, four years of medical school, in debt for $250,995 when you graduate, and an additional three to seven years in a residency program where they pay you $27.44 an hour. And then you get a job with a hospital or HMO where your work is governed by the same bean counters who oversee the manufacture of widgets, and where patient care is routinely shortchanged or even denied in order to save a few bucks.

It’s about time doctors organized—hey, it’s well past time.

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