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Acupuncturists Latest in Medical Field to Unionize Labor:
Vote to create guild is effort to gain bargaining clout with HMO's. It also reflects cultural shift within AFL-CIO.

By Nancy Rivera Brooks
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Used with permission by the L.A. Times – www.latimes.com/business

Talk about turning points: Acupuncturists in California are forming a union and affiliating with the AFL-CIO.

Groups representing 7,500 California acupuncturists voted Friday to create the National Guild for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This is the latest effort by medical personnel to gain bargaining clout with tightfisted managed-care organizations and build political muscle.

The new guild, many of whose members are Asian, also signals a continuing cultural shift within the ALF-CIO, which is recruiting more minorities and immigrants.

About half the nation’s 15,000 acupuncturists practice in California. Acupuncturists, who are licensed in this and 40 other states, tend to be fiercely independent practitioners of an ancient system of diagnosing and treating illness, frequently using thin needles to stimulate and adjust energy flows throughout the body.

The OPEIU, the Service Employees International Union and other labor groups have been successful in organizing salaried doctors and other medical professionals in recent years, tapping into frustration with managed-care companies and their frugal policies.

The OPEIU is targeting independent contractors in medicine and other professions, said Alan Elnick, international representative with the OPEIU. A growing percentage of the U.S. work force is composed of independent contractors, he said.

Acupuncture is treated differently in different states, and the guild wants to tackle licensing and other issues across the country.

About 25 professional acupuncture associations in California voted Friday to form the guild, which acupuncturists would join though professional associations and schools rather than individually, Ted Priebe said. The associations now are reviewing bylaws with members and holding ratification votes. Other associations around the country will be able to affiliate with the guild, Priebe said.

Acupuncturists belonging to one of the largest groups, the 900-member California State Oriental Medical Assn., will discuss joining the guild this month but probably won’t vote on the bylaws until August, said San Francisco acupuncturist Benjamin Dierauf, president of the organization.

“I’m very excited about it. I think there is a lot of potential in making a strong alliance politically and economically so that we can provide quality health care” to more consumers, Dierauf said.

This article was taken from the L.A. Times Business section, published June 8, 2000.

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