Doctors at three LA County hospitals vote to strike if contract talks break down – Daily News

on Jun1
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More than 1,300 resident physicians and fellows at three of L.A. County’s largest hospitals have voted to authorize an unfair labor practice strike, claiming they work long hours and often earn below minimum wage.

Failing a resolution in the coming days, the workers – represented by the Committee of Interns and Residents/Service Employees International Union – said they are prepared to walk out. It would be the first time CIR members have staged a strike in 32 years.

The doctors work at LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center. The union’s bargaining team said it plans to engage in intensive labor negotiations with the county this week in hopes of reaching an agreement.

Doctors say the county has repeatedly canceled scheduled bargaining sessions and otherwise engaged in bad faith bargaining conduct. Their current three-year contract expired Sept. 30, 2021.

Union negotiators are asking for a 7% raise as part of a new agreement but said the county has offered a 3.5% increase despite an inflation rate that has topped 8%.

The doctors’ first-year salary is $56,830, rising progressively to $61,728 in the second year, $68,883 in year three, and $72,074 by year four.

The county has likewise offered no increase or counter offer on education, healthcare coverage or housing costs, union officials said.

The doctors say they need the county to come to the table and bargain fairly so they can get what they need to care for their patients and their own families amid severe inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The county’s response

In a statement released Tuesday, the L.A. County Department of Health Services said its health services “could not be possible without our residents and interns who help deliver best-in-class care.”

“We want to thank our workforce members for their heroic efforts throughout the pandemic and as we move towards a better normal,” the department said.

Dr. Adam Freeman, 31, a third-year pediatric resident at LAC+USC Medical Center and a member of the union’s bargaining team, said he and his colleagues are financially hurting.

“We are paid a base salary but the level is fairly low,” the 31-year-old Chinatown resident said last month. “Depending on what rotation we’re working, we can spend 80 hours a week here. When you break that down in hours worked per week it’s less than L.A. County’s minimum wage.”

The union said residents work such long hours they often earn as little as $14 an hour.

Dr. Monique Hedmann, a second-year family medicine resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said the low wages have a ripple effect.

“This is about us being able to pay our rent, but it’s also about the future of these hospitals and their role in providing L.A.’s communities with great care long-term,” Hedmann said in a statement. “We’re willing to make the short-term sacrifice of striking in order to build something that lasts.”

A low housing stipend

Freeman said LAC+USC Medical Center offers a $4,000 annual housing stipend to help offset employee costs, but it’s not keeping up with rising inflation and increased energy costs.

“Most of the housing rents in areas near the hospital run around $1,700 to $2,000 a month,” he said. “And (landlords) want you to prove you can afford to live in these places, so they want to see that you could pay up to three months ahead on rent — not that you actually have to pay that.”

Union members have already held a range of actions, including a march on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors with thousands of other county workers on March 31, and a march out of their hospitals on May 5.

CIR/SEIU represents more than 22,000 resident physicians and fellows nationwide who are working to complete their physician training under programs offered at such institutions as LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center.

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