Penn Medicine physicians seek union recognition

Resident physicians and fellows at Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania Health System are asking the health system to voluntarily recognize their union, the Committee of Interns and Residents.

A supermajority of residents and fellows who work for Penn Medicine have agreed to be represented by CIR, a local of the Service Employees International Union, according to a Feb. 17 CIR/SEIU news release. 

Union representatives have delivered a letter to hospital management petitioning for voluntary recognition, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Physicians contend they have struggled for months to advocate to hospital management for improvements to their working conditions and patient care without success. Pay and workloads are among the issues they seek to address.

"As residents, we have very little power to improve working conditions or address important patient care needs through the official channels," Jackson Steinkamp, MD, a resident physician in internal medicine at Penn, said in the union release. "But through our union, we will have a seat at the table to push for changes we need to best do our jobs."

The NLRB provides various paths to forming a union. According to the labor board's website, the NLRB will conduct an election if at least 30 percent of workers sign cards or a petition indicating their support for unionization. Workers would then vote on whether to unionize. Employers may also voluntarily recognize a union based on signed union-authorization cards or other evidence. 

"We believe that our trainees will best be served by working directly with UPHS administration through our existing Graduate Medical Education Committee structure, which will continue its commitment to a collaborative, flexible approach which ensures strong human resources support for house staff," a Penn Medicine spokesperson said in a statement shared with Becker's.

The spokesperson also noted that Penn Medicine has made various investments in both compensation and benefits for trainees over the past five years, increasing salaries for first-year residents by nearly 18 percent, and "making wages highly competitive as compared to local and national peer institutions."

The effort at Penn Medicine comes as physicians nationwide have been involved in union-related activities, including efforts toward representation at the bargaining table.

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