Housing stipend stalls talks between UC Davis, medical residents

A debate over a housing stipend is at the center of contract negotiations that have stalled between Sacramento, Calif.-based UC Davis Medical Center and hundreds of physicians-in-training, according to the Sacramento Bee.

The hospital and nearly 800 residents, fellows and interns have been in negotiations for more than 18 months. 

The local labor union Committee of Interns and Residents is seeking an annual $5,500 stipend to offset housing costs, compared to the hospital's offer of $2,000, according to the report, published April 14. 

UC Davis is underestimating resident housing costs, and the hospital's offer does not align with today's rental market in Sacramento, union organizers said. The union also contends that the hospital's offer is not on par with what other University of California medical schools provide and would result in recruitment and retention challenges related to low-income resident and fellow physicians and resident and fellow physicians of color, according to the Sacramento Bee.

To "residents of color, first-generation [physicians] whose parents don't come from a good financial background or have lower socioeconomic status, this matters," Anokh Sohal, a second-year resident in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said, according to the newspaper. "Not being able to say you have a good contract that's fair and equitable, that has deterred a lot of residents of color from the program."

The hospital defended its compensation level in a statement shared with Becker's Hospital Review.  

Steve Telliano, assistant vice chancellor of strategic communications at UC Davis Health, said the hospital is "hopeful of reaching agreement, but we remain fairly far apart on several core issues, most notably the union's demand that UC Davis pay housing costs for these doctors-in-training at San Francisco or Los Angeles rates."

Mr. Telliano said UC Davis can't pay medical residents a Sacramento housing allowance based upon housing prices in those larger cities, where the cost of living is higher.

"These residents are medical trainees, paid nearly $70,000 per year, and we've offered to pay some of their housing costs," said Mr. Telliano, adding that the hospital provided residents with 7 percent pay increases in the last year, and is proposing another increase in July.

Mr. Telliano said UC Davis believes it "can and will continue to recruit the best and brightest residents with our bargaining offer."  

According to the report, the housing stipend the union is proposing would cover about 32 percent of the median cost to rent a one-bedroom Sacramento apartment. That is similar to the percentage offered by UCLA, UC San Francisco and UC Irvine, the report states.

The union said members "are fully invested in their patients and their specialty training as physicians. It's not about matching LA or San Francisco, it's about matching statements about equity and settling a fair contract at UC Davis."
The next bargaining session is scheduled for April 27. 

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