Stanford Health Care’s Residents Vote to Join Union

Stanford Health Care’s resident physicians voted May 2 in favor of joining the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR-SEIU), part of a growing trend in unionization within the medical profession.

More than 81% of the health system’s resident physicians voted to join the union; the decision garnered 835 yes votes and 214 no votes, according to a CIR-SEIU announcement. The largest housestaff union in the United States and a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), CIR-SEIU represents more than 20,000 resident physicians and fellows.

“With its successful representation with the Committee of Interns and Residents, Stanford housestaff now join the strong community of allied unions and fellow healthcare workers such as the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), an independent union of Stanford nurses,” according to CIR-SEIU.

“We are organizing not only for a new economic contract that enables all potential housestaff and their families to afford living in the Bay Area, but also for a new social contract that redefines how we are valued by the hospital system,” Ben Solomon, MD, PhD, a third-year resident physician in pediatrics at Stanford Medicine and a member of CIR-SEIU, told Medscape Medical News.

“This includes advocating for more humane working hours, reasonable parental leave, and childcare support, as well as resources to combat burnout in young physicians,” he added.

Lisa Kim, a spokesperson for Stanford Health Care, told Medscape Medical News, “A majority of residents and fellows at Stanford Health Care voted in favor of unionization. Of 1478 total residents and fellows, 835 voted in favor. CIR/SEIU will be certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for all residents and fellows. Stanford Health Care does not plan to contest the election results.”

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

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must certify the election results before they are considered final, per CIR-SEIU. An independent federal agency, the NLRB safeguards employees’ rights to organize and determines whether union participation is appropriate while also preventing and remedying unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions.

Concerns Date Back to Initial COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

The residents delivered a formal demand to Stanford Health Care to recognize the union in February; their request was not accepted by the health system. The residents’ concerns date as far back as the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines at the end of 2020.

Medscape reported in December 2020 that, of the health system’s 5000 doses, only seven residents and fellows were included in the initial round.

Niraj Sehgal, MD, chief medical officer for Stanford Health Care, apologized in a letter to the graduate medical education community, posted by Palo Alto Weekly, which revealed the root causes to be an algorithm used by the hospital and the age of the residents.

The vote by Stanford Health Care’s residents comes a day after nurses at Stanford and Lucile Packard Children’s hospitals ratified a new contract with their union after a strike for better working conditions and higher pay stretched on for a week, reported Palo Alto Online.

Part of a Growing Trend

Solomon got involved in the unionization effort at Stanford Health Care “to have a say in working conditions for residents and fellows,” he said. “As individuals, it’s virtually impossible to make demands to our hospital without risking our careers, but together we can demand improvements on the job and in patient care.”

The health system’s inability to extend COVID-19 vaccines during the initial rollout, “despite our role working with COVID patients on the frontlines,” spurred his involvement in the union effort, said Solomon.

In the short term, the union will be involved in negotiating its first contract, he said. “However, in the long term, we are committed to supporting the unionization efforts of residents and fellows across the country, including partnering with many housestaff unions here in California.”

Stanford Health Care’s residents are participating in a growing trend. In Worcester, Massachusetts, UMass Medical School’s 613 residents and fellow physicians, who are also represented by CIR-SEIU, had their union certified by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations in March 2021, reported the (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette.

Other unionization efforts across the country include a supermajority of 85 interns, residents, and fellows employed by Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California , who requested that Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center recognize their union, per an announcement. That’s in addition to residents at University of Vermont Medical Center, who announced their intention to unionize in March, reported

Aine Cryts is a veteran health IT and healthcare writer based out of Boston.

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