MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Dozens of employees at the concierge medical company One Medical are trying to unionize. They are citing mismanagement. Earlier this year, NPR reported on allegations that One Medical had provided then-ineligible patients with the COVID vaccine. The reporting sparked a congressional investigation into whether the company sought to profit from COVID vaccine shots. Now many One Medical staff members say working conditions are poor, and they say the high-end boutique medical company is putting profits over patients. Tim Mak of NPR's investigations team is with us. Hey, Tim.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.
KELLY: Give me a little backdrop here. What is One Medical? What exactly do they do?
MAK: Sure. They're a nationwide medical provider. They're based in San Francisco. And they're valued in the billions of dollars. They typically charge a $199 fee each year for access to a tech-driven, high-end patient experience. So this past spring, we did an investigation into these allegations that the company had not properly screened COVID vaccine eligibility, leading numerous public health departments to halt vaccine distribution to the company. Not only did this lead to a congressional investigation, but the company also acknowledged that outside of the congressional probe, it had received inquiries from the California attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission. We kept digging and found a lot of employee concerns.
KELLY: Like what? What are they saying?
MAK: So One Medical went public in January of 2020. And we spoke to 10 current and three former employees for this investigation. A common theme we heard was that the company shifted its focus after its IPO, placing the bottom line before the patient experience. And employees have said they feel it's affected patient care. One example they use is that preventative care appointments were shortened from 40 minutes to 30 minutes and framed as a so-called redesigned physical. Staff were also complaining about working long hours while supervisors are monitoring every minute of their work, saying that they felt that their call metrics, that - these are folks who are working on the One Medical call center - that call metrics were the priority, rather than actually dealing with patient needs. Here's how one former staffer described her experience.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There was a week at the beginning of May, maybe mid-May or something. I got off the phone with a patient. And, like, the call was fine. They didn't yell. But I just, like, sobbed because I was so overwhelmed with everything. So it was just, like, soul-sucking.
MAK: One Medical responded by telling NPR that delivering quality care to their patients is their, quote, "No. 1 priority" and that the IPO has not had an effect on their standards.
KELLY: OK, so the latest twist is employees want to unionize. What exactly are they demanding?
MAK: So a company-wide survey shows a lot of dissatisfaction. Some 50% of staff was looking for new work. Dozens of administrative staff and phlebotomists have asked for the voluntary recognition of a union. But the company's leadership has said no to this. So at some point, staff will be holding a vote to see if a majority of them want a union. In a recent meeting of One Medical staff, recorded by an employee, CEO Amir Dan Rubin argued against unionization.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AMIR DAN RUBIN: We think the best way to affect positive change is to work together directly rather than through the filter of a union, which is unlikely to share our vision. And I'm sure you all are familiar that there are union dues, how it can radically restructure work relationships and impact our culture.
KELLY: Fascinating. One of many voices there from reporting by our own Tim Mak. Tim, thank you for that.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
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