This was a letter sent to the UHWA constituency on September 17, 2015.
Fellow UWHA Members,
Since restructuring the UWHA last year, the Negotiating Team of 12 residents and fellows has been in talks with the UW to draft our first contract. The goal was to give you a contract that fixes the problems you brought to our attention such as salary, parking, and childcare to name just a few. However, despite our continued efforts on your behalf for over the past 10 months, we were disappointed by the University’s response. To some of us, it might come as no surprise that the University presented essentially the same contract that has always existed – the status quo that we overwhelming voted against when we elected to organize. If we want to continue to recruit the best and brightest to our University, we cannot sit by while our peers struggle to pay rent, find affordable childcare, or otherwise make continual sacrifices to meet their financial obligations.
The residency system has failed to evolve despite the world changing around it. We now live and work in a broken paradigm and this is our opportunity to affect change, just as Seattle has already done for other workers, parents, and citizens. We are trying to establish equity for all of us who have worked hard and sacrificed extensively to provide exceptional care to our patients. Thank you for sharing your voice.
UWHA Negotiation Team
P.S. For those who are interested in reading on, we have outlined the specific issues below.
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We demonstrated to the University that the system in place to reimburse residents is flawed and has not changed for over 40 years (in real terms, per the New England Journal of Medicine, residents are now paid less than in 1975; http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1402468). We face higher costs of living, larger education debts, and live in cities where the salaries have not kept pace with the purchasing power of a dollar. The result: residents in our programs receive charity care in the very hospitals where they work and receive low income subsidization to pay their utility bills.
With this knowledge, we asked the question “If residents were paid according to the actual value they provide to our patients and hospitals, what would our salary be?” The closest comparison we could find was a physician assistant (PA) in our system. We recognize that this comparison isn’t perfect, but it is as close as we could approximate to the value (as determined by a free market) of the care we provide. Thus, we thought a reasonable starting point would be the 1st percentile of what a PA earns in Seattle.
The University countered with essentially maintaining the status quo – a 2% increase which, if history serves as a guide, is likely what the University had planned to offer residents regardless. In their words, they consider what they offer a “fair stipend” for “students” given the supreme “value of the education” we are provided. When we asked the question of “who brings more value to the University, a PGY-8 chief surgical resident or first day PA?” we were told that our question was "complex."
For many residents at UW, 10% or more of their salary goes to pay for parking. Many programs provide free parking to residents. As part of our proposal we requested free parking for residents given their long irregular hours and lack of alternative options.
In the midst of our discussion, the University increased parking rates in July (which is potentially a violation of State Law given that we are engaged in bargaining). We went on to offer creative alternatives to free parking such as reduced rates (i.e. early bird rates), incentives for biking or using public transportation, and free UPASS’s for Residents who drive <20% per quarter. The University ignored these ideas and simply gave us back the current parking policy.
3. Child Care/Maternity
We presented studies showing the safety risk of working long hours while pregnant and emphasized the recent national trends protecting mothers during the third trimester. We proposed to limit call for mothers during the third trimester. We also asked for residents who are new mothers to be eligible for paid leave rather than the unpaid leave they are offered today. Despite such paid leave being offered at the majority of programs around the country, we were told the University was not interested in addressing this concern for us or any other union.
Given our irregular and extended hours, finding reasonable childcare can be extremely challenging for residents, especially in the weeks after the birth of a child. We suggested the University offer financial support to families who are particularly vulnerable to these costs (like two resident families) and help defray the higher costs of non-UW-based daycare since we don’t have priority ranking for on-campus options that tend to be more affordable. The University responded by giving us back the same childcare policy currently in place.
We have addressed dozens of other policies with similar outcomes. We had hoped that restructuring the UWHA into a collective bargaining unit and presenting reasonable, creative and well-researched proposals could lead to collaborative solutions with the University. It has not. We need your support to inform the UW that this lack of compromise is not acceptable.