Health & Medicine

A week after worker strike, UC Davis hospital residents and interns seek to join labor union

Less than a week after some unionized employees of the hospital took to the picket lines over stalled contract negotiations, a majority of roughly 800 medical residents, interns and fellows at UC Davis Medical Center have signed up to join a labor union, the Committee of Interns and Residents, the union announced Monday.

Those employees will soon ask the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to certify the union to bargain on their behalf.

Dr. Lauren Jansen, a third-year resident in family medicine at UCD Medical Center, said she signed up to authorize CIR to represent training physicians and surgeons because she wanted to give residents who followed her a chance to bargain from a position of power.

“Right now, residents have no say in what goes into their contract,” she said. ”Things change year to year. Nothing feels secure, but once we have a union involved, we’ll be able to lock in our current benefits and can only go up from there.”

UC Davis Medical Center officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

Members of two other unions – UPTE-CWA and AFSCME 3299 – walked out last week protesting pay and long work hours.

Now that enough residents and fellows have signed cards authorizing CIR representation, the union has decided to go public with its organizing campaign, said Kim Carter Martinez, director of CIR Northern California and New Mexico. In a week or two, the union will seek PERB certification, she said, adding that CIR has been meeting with UC Davis residents and fellows for about three months.

PERB will check CIR authorizations against a list of residents supplied by UC Davis as part of the certification process, Carter Martinez said. PERB recently certified CIR, a unit of the Service Employees International Union, to represent residents, fellows and interns practicing at all UCLA and UC San Francisco medical facilities.

CIR represents roughly 15,000 providers nationwide, 6,000 of them at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and a half-dozen other hospitals around California. At Highland, CIR’s oldest unit in the state, the union has represented physicians and surgeons in training since 1999, Carter Martinez said.

Residents have seen a number of gains after organizing at other hospitals, Jansen said, including housing stipends, child care, better parking after leaving long shifts and gathering spaces for residents. Priorities may change for future residents, Jansen said, but a union would give them the ability to share concerns with the administration and negotiate without fear of reprisals.

Dr. Yakira Teitel, a third-year resident in family and community medicine at UC San Francisco, said she and other residents have seen the difference a union can make. For decades now, CIR has represented residents who practice at San Francisco General. That’s one of about four sites where UCSF residents may practice during the fellowships and residents. When UCSF residents rotate into practices at other UCSF facilities — UCSF Parnassus or UCSF Mission Bay, for instance — they do not have the same benefits or representation as residents at San Francisco General.

“Part of what led to us organizing to have a bargaining unit for all UCSF residents and fellows was seeing what we’ve been able to gain at San Francisco General versus at hospitals that were not unionized,” said Teitel. “Some of those things are as basic as meal benefits and parking spaces or at least help with parking and transportation after long shifts. As a resident, not just at UCSF, but in general, no one is really looking out for our well-being.”

Teitel said her CIR unit is now in negotiations with UCSF administrators that she expects to lead to pay increases and improved family leave benefits.

“UCSF residencies pay much less than some of the nearby residency programs,” Teitel said, “and San Francisco…is an incredibly expensive place to live. The cost of living has continued to go up, and residency salaries haven’t kept pace with it.”

She noted that many residents also are not happy that UCSF offers just two weeks of paid family leave while other employers in San Francisco offer six weeks.

CIR’s expansion into University of California medical centers comes despite predictions that the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling last June would cripple unions. In the decision, the high court said that, if public-sector employees refuse union membership, they cannot be compelled to pay union fees. CIR’s union dues will amount to about 1.6 percent of pay for residents, fellows and interns.

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