Residents at New York City hospitals seek union recognition

https://mailchi.mp/cfd0577540a3/the-weekly-gist-november-11-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

 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.  

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.

Stanford physicians vote to join union

Resident and fellow physicians at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care have voted in favor of representation by the Committee of Interns and Residents, according to a May 3 news release.

Of the nearly 1,050 ballots counted, 835 were in favor of representation, the National Labor Relations Board website showed. 

The vote comes after resident physicians led a protest in December 2020 against Stanford’s COVID-19 vaccination plan that excluded house staff from the initial round of shots. The health system immediately revised the plan to prioritize resident physicians.

In February, physicians also demanded the health system voluntarily recognize the Committee of Interns and Residents as their exclusive representative for collective bargaining.

Now the union said its members are looking forward to negotiations. 

“Our doctors are united by our desire to provide the best possible patient care and strong worker protections,” said Ben Solomon, MD, a pediatric resident physician, said in the release. “One thing the pandemic has made abundantly clear, in addition to the widespread equity issues in our healthcare system, is that our needs as physicians cannot be separated from those of our patients.”

The National Labor Relations Board must certify the election results before they are final. Stanford does not plan to challenge the results, the health system said in a statement shared with Becker’s on May 3.

“As we begin the collective bargaining process, our goal remains unchanged: providing our residents and fellows with a world-class training experience,” Stanford said. “We will bring this same focus to negotiations as we strive to support their development as physician leaders.”

The Committee of Interns and Residents is a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. The union represents more than 20,000 resident physicians and fellows, including University of Massachusetts physicians in training, who unionized in March 2021.