Medical residents, interns walk off the job at UCSF Medical Center over failed contract talks

Resident physicians, interns and clinical fellows walked off their shifts for 15 minutes Tuesday at noon to draw attention to...

Resident physicians, interns and clinical fellows walked off their shifts for 15 minutes Tuesday at noon to draw attention to failed contract negotiations between their union and the UC San Francisco Medical Center.

Union organizers called the protest a “Unity Break,” and it came after a year of talks with hospital management that have not resulted in an agreement. The Committee of Interns and Residents, which represents 1,100 of UCSF’s resident and fellow population, say that management has not properly recognized the contributions of their members and has offered a package that leaves them underpaid and underrepresented.

“UCSF has failed to meet some of the very basic demands that we have been fighting for at the table,” said Kim Carter, director of the union.

Among these demands are what union organizers are calling a ‘grievance procedure.’ Currently there is no avenue for the union to represent its members during disciplinary proceedings. While these are rare, those that do occur can be devastating to job prospects following a residency program, according to Carter.

The right to be represented by their union through a grievance procedure is already available to all other hospital employees.

Furthermore, UCSF stands with the minority on this issue, according to union representatives UCSF is the only hospital of ten they represent in the bay area that does not allow union representation or third party arbitration for interns, residents and fellows.

While the hospital did offer more money with the overall package, union representatives say it was not enough to provide their members a living wage in San Francisco’s rental market.

Medical residency provides in-depth training and on-the-job learning. Depending on the branch of medicine, programs vary from three to eight years. First year residents are classified as interns and clinical fellows have already completed a residency, but have returned for additional training and specialization

A large portion of residents and fellows do not live in the city because their salaries simply do not cover the high-cost of rental units in the city, according to Veronica Searles Quick, a psychiatric resident on her second year. She said “in order to make rent here I needed to work two jobs.”

Working a second job or even picking up additional shifts at the hospital, also known as ‘moonlighting,’ is not possible for all residency positions, according to Josh Bukowski, emergency medicine resident on his third year. Some programs require residents to work up to 70 to 80 hours a week, with only four days off guaranteed a month.

“For most of us working a second job is not possible. At the end of a shift it can be hard to just drive home,” said Bukowski.

In response to the union organized protest, hospital officials released a statement saying they “deeply value the many contributions of intern and resident physicians” and “remain committed to the bargaining process, and to reaching agreement with the union.”

David Nguyen, a fellow for infectious diseases, has been at UCSF for seven years. He says the unliveable wages are also draining the hospital staff of much needed diversity that was abundant when he first began. “My co-residents were pretty diverse people, like me they didn’t come from money and they were here on their own. Now almost everybody coming here is only here because they are married to somebody in tech….it changes who comes here.”

Negotiations with hospital management were scheduled for March 19, however the meeting was cancelled due to a second unrelated strike on the same day with the union of University Professional and Technical Employees and Communication Workers of America.

Research workers, health workers and technological workers will be going on strike Wednesday over disputes on the future of their pension as part of a statewide strike.