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Interest in unionization continues at St. John's

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

A campaign to organize employees at St. John's Regional Health Systems continues, according to Jim Kabell, secretary/treasurer for the Teamsters, the union conducting the organizing campaign.

"We're seeing new people weekly. There continues to be interest among the employees," Kabell said.

Of the seven groups the Teamsters can represent at St. John's, one or two are closer to actually organizing than the others, Kabell said. He declined to specify which groups those were, but said that weekly there are between 15 and 45 new people expressing interest in organizing.

The union has already organized St. John's emergency medical technicians in Camden County. The union is now working to get the first contract in place for that group. A third set of meetings will begin on the topic April 24, Kabell said. The election to unionize was late last summer, Kabell said, though negotiations between St. John's and the Teamsters didn't begin until after the beginning of 1998.

There are seven groups the Teamsters can represent at St. John's: skilled maintenance, non-professionals, registered nurses, technical staff, office and clerical staff, non-RN professionals and physicians.

There are no other hospitals in Springfield that are organized into a labor union, Kabell said.

Meanwhile, a group of physicians held a meeting April 20 to discuss some concerns, said Dr. Jim Blaine, a St. John's physician. More than 100 physicians attended the meeting, which was not about unionization, Blaine said.

"What was ultimately decided at that meeting was that some sort of assessment of the 350 physicians in the St. John's system should be taken," Blaine said.

Blaine said that things are changing in the health care environment, largely because of managed care

"We're seeing an awful lot of changes, and a lot of what is going on is attributable to growth pains. We've never been in a managed care environment before," Blaine said.

There is some dissatisfaction and anger, largely because the doctors need guidance in the new managed care environment. They are concerned about communication among themselves and spending sufficient time with patients.

"I prefer to look at silver linings. This has led us toward communicating more effectively," Blaine said.

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