Physician residents and fellows unionize at two major California health systems

Seeking stronger workplace protections, physician residents and fellows at both Stanford Health Care and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Keck School of Medicine have voted to join the Committee of Interns and Residents, a chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Despite being frontline healthcare workers, most Stanford residents were excluded from the first round of the health system’s COVID vaccine rollout in December 2020. The system ultimately revised its plan to include residents, but the delay damaged Stanford’s relationship with residents, adding momentum to the unionization movement. Meanwhile, Keck’s residents unanimously voted in favor of joining the union, aiming for higher compensation and greater workplace representation.

The Gist: While nurses and other healthcare workers in California, as in many other parts of the country, have been increasingly banding together for higher pay and better working conditions, physician residents and fellows contemplating unionization is a newer trend. 

Physicians-in-training have historically accepted long work hours and low pay as a rite of passage, and have shied away from organizing. But pandemic working conditions, the growing trend of physician employment, and generational shifts in the physician workforce have changed the profession in a multitude of ways. 

Health systems and training programs must actively engage in understanding and supporting the needs of younger doctors, who will soon comprise a majority of the physician workforce.

Michigan Medicine accused of exploiting 1,300 resident physicians in labor dispute

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/michigan-medicine-accused-of-exploiting-1-300-resident-physicians-in-labor-dispute.html?utm_medium=email

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The union that represents 1,300 resident physicians at Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine said the health system is exploiting its members as both sides negotiate a new contract, according to Michigan Radio.

The University of Michigan House Officers Association and Michigan Medicine are trying to reach an agreement before the current contract expires in late June. But compensation remains a key sticking point.

Ruth Bickett-Hickok, MD, a second-year anesthesiology resident, told reporters May 18 she’s been treating COVID-19 patients and seeks a cost-of-living raise, according to Michigan Radio.

“Frankly I’m here because, for lack of a better term, Michigan [Medicine] residents right now are being exploited for their labor. Especially during this crisis,” said Dr. Bickett-Hickok, who is on the union board. She also cited her debt load for undergraduate and medical school in her reasoning for seeking a cost-of-living raise.

Overall, the union says it wants fair wages that recognize the risks physician residents have been willing to take on during the pandemic.

In a statement provided to Becker’s Hospital Review, Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson said the health system “recognizes the important role of the [union] members” and amid the pandemic “has honored the compensation package previously proposed to the HOA, which includes salary increases.”

Ms. Masson said Michigan Medicine is undergoing a $400 million expense reduction plan with furloughs and layoffs affecting about 1,400 full-time employees. Physician residents’ salaries range from $58,500 to $82,900 annually based on experience. Ms. Masson said to provide even higher salary increases, Michigan Medicine would have to eliminate additional jobs.

The union proposes that the health system use part of the university’s endowment funds to help cover the new labor deal.