The union representing residents and interns at three Los Angeles County hospitals is expected to announce the results of a vote on the strike by its members on Monday, May 30.
The Committee of Interns and Residents, part of Service Personnel International and generally referred to as CIR/SEIU, represents more than 1,300 physicians and fellow residents at LAC + USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Outpatient Center, the latter of which is located in the community of Willowbrook in unincorporated Los Angeles County.
Voting on permission to strike, prompted by stalled contract talks with Los Angeles County officials, began on May 16 and ends on Monday.
If approved, the doctors and interns will join “tens of thousands of other Los Angeles County employees who have exhausted their options as the county continues to engage in superficial labor contract negotiations,” union officials said in a statement as voting began. “If they eventually go on strike, doctors will be the first in their union (in) 32 years, which shows the seriousness of this contract and workers’ frustration with the boycott’s bad faith behaviour.”
The union’s last contract expired on September 30 and negotiators are asking for a 7% increase as part of a new agreement.
The Los Angeles County Executive Office, which is handling contract negotiations, expressed optimism that the strike could be avoided and said, in a statement, that services to the public are expected to continue uninterrupted.
“Negotiations are ongoing and the boycott remains hopeful for a fair and financially responsible contract,” the statement said. “The vote on the suspended mandate by the Interns and Residents Committee is not a strike and services to the public continue uninterrupted.”
Residents or trainees are physicians in training who have graduated from medical school and have gained on-the-job experience while providing medical treatment and other services to patients. Salaries at Los County facilities generally range from $50,000 to $65,000 per year.
But many say they are working long hours, especially as hospitals have at times been full of COVID-19 patients and faced staff shortages due to the pandemic.
“We are doctors, and people see us in white coats, so they think we make what you think a doctor makes,” Camila Alvarado, a family sophomore staying at Harbor UCLA, said during a press conference earlier this month. “But in residence, if you divide by the number of hours we work, which is about 80 hours per week, we are actually making minimum wage, if not less than minimum wage.”
In addition to higher wages, the union is demanding an improved benefit package and better working conditions.
Union officials accused the county’s negotiators of failing to address these key contract proposals and engaging in bad faith bargaining behavior.
Resident doctors joined other disgruntled county employees in a march to the Board of Supervisors on March 31, and marched outside their hospitals on May 5.
“Not only did we continue to give everything we had every single day to ensure our hospitals were running smoothly during this health crisis,” Dr. Mahima Iyengar, M.D., resident in internal medicine and pediatrics at LAC + USC, said in an opinion piece for MedPage Today. And we talked, and we used every tool to settle this contract and get the wages and benefits we need to live, while the county offered us nothing in response to some of our most urgent proposals.
We don’t do it lightly, Iyengar added, but the Board of Supervisors leaves us no choice but to vote on this strike, and I would be proud to vote yes.