PHYSICIAN UNIONS: Northwestern Residents Join Forces
Upset over what they consider to be low pay and insufficient benefits, resident physicians and interns at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital have formed a "house staff organization" -- a labor group that could "lead to one of the nation's largest unions for doctors-in-training," the Chicago Tribune reports. More than 800 young physicians at Northwestern are eligible for membership in the "McGaw House Officer Alliance," which falls short of a full-fledged union and does not advocate strikes, but maintains its own constitution and bylaws. Group organizers said they are not ruling out the possibility that the alliance could evolve into a full-fledged union, a move that would be made possible by the National Labor Relations Board's ruling last November that residents and interns at private hospitals are employees, not students, and hence eligible for unionization. The Northwestern group is pushing for higher pay, more generous meal stipends, improved parking and upgraded sleeping rooms for residents on call. Doctors want to "at least maintain competitive salaries," saying they are paid slightly less than last year's national $38,921 average for a 56-hour residency workweek, according to American Medical Association statistics. In addition, "[p]arking is a huge issue" and "medical benefits are extremely poor," Roger Tatum, chief resident in general surgery, said. Northwestern doesn't consider residents and interns "a traditional part of the work force," Northwestern University Medical School Dean Dr. Lewis Landsberg said, but he added, "There are some issues that can and should be addressed and are in the process of being addressed." For example, the hospital is ameliorating parking difficulties and recently awarded residents a 5% pay raise. Currently, 10,000 of the nation's 100,000 interns and residents are unionized, and the AMA reports it has seen a "national trend toward young doctors seeking to improve labor conditions" in the wake of the NLRB's ruling (Japsen/Toosi, 7/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.