Last week, over 1,200 resident physicians and interns at Montefiore Medical Center, one of the largest employers in New York City, with four hospitals in the Bronx, held an organizing vote and requested voluntary recognition of their bargaining unit. The residents organized under the Committee of Interns and Residents, a unit of the Service Employees International Union that claims 22K members and has established unions at five hospitals this year. Roughly seven percent of practicing doctors were unionized as of 2019; that number has grown in the wake of pandemic-induced burnout and industry consolidation. Montefiore Medical Center declined to voluntarily recognize the union and has requested that the union re-form via a secret ballot election.
The Gist: Health system executives may see the possibility of resident unions as another headache amid the ongoing labor crisis, but the drivers of the crisis—burnout, workplace safety concerns, work-life balance, and real-wage erosion—are responsible for the growing appeal of unions for physicians. Fueled by economy-wide stressors, unionization has been growing in nontraditional labor sectors, including among baristas and tech workers, and medical residents may be the next to join that wave.
Health systems worried about resident unionization should address residents’ concerns about working conditions proactively, which may involve reevaluating wages in light of residents’ significant contributions to operational and financial success.