Montefiore resident physicians call for union recognition with SEIU

Montefiore sign
Montefiore residents and fellows are unionizing, planning to announce their intentions at a Tuesday morning press conference.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Resident physicians and fellows at Montefiore Medical Center are unionizing with the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), a branch of Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

On Tuesday morning, residents and fellows based in the Bronx are requesting immediate voluntary recognition from the medical center. Montefiore has more than 1,200 residents, who are medical school graduates that work in hospitals and clinics while undergoing required training in their specialty to become board-certified fully licensed doctors, and fellows, who are in an optional stage of medical training and are typically fully licensed and sub-specializing after their residency. There are many more residents than fellows, according to organizers.

Resident and fellow physicians plan to announce their efforts at a press conference at 10:30 a.m.

The formal vote has not taken place yet, as organizers are waiting to see if the medical center chooses to voluntarily recognize the union. But there is supermajority support in what would be the largest health care unionization effort in the country so far this year, according to organizers.

“I think COVID really showed us how exploited and overworked we could be, honestly,” Dr. Isuree Katugampala, a third-year pediatric resident at Montefiore, told the Bronx Times. “Because we were on the frontlines taking care of an unprecedented amount of people, but we were finding that we weren’t getting the resources and support that we needed to face such a big crisis.”

Residents and fellows, who are salaried and can find themselves working more than 80 hours a week, want their pay to better reflect the cost of living in NYC, she said. They also want compensation for when they are called into an unexpected shift to fill in for a sick colleague, yearly bonuses and better family leave policies. Because the doctors in training end up filling the gaps when the hospital is understaffed thus taking on ancillary tasks that can come at the expense of their education, they also want to advocate for more support staff at the hospital.

With confusion surrounding the shuffling of two Montefiore facilities and the sixth data breach in two years this summer, preceded by federal health and safety violations and calls to address understaffing late last year, the call for unionization is the private Bronx-based non-profit medical center’s most recent test in confronting its operations in the state’s unhealthiest county.

Residents on Montefiore’s Wakefield campus, formerly the Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center, have been unionized with CIR since 2001, before the hospital filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and was bought by Montefiore in 2008. Non-unionized residents at the other Montefiore locations were able to get a 3% pay increase earlier this year after Wakefield residents got one, Katugampala said, but it took a fight.

The resident physicians rotate across various Montefiore sites, but are mainly located at the Moses campus in Norwood and Jack D. Weiler Hospital in Pelham Parkway, organizers said. Some also share rotations with public hospital residents at Jacobi Medical Center.

Residents sign onto the training program in order to become attending physicians, putting them in a unique position where leaving their jobs would fracture their high-pressure career trajectories that already steeped them in debt.

While the Montefiore residency program is the only one in the Bronx that isn’t unionized, according to organizers, Montefiore residents were some of the first to unionize in the 1970s before losing recognition in 1981. Montefiore nurses are represented by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), engineers and mechanics are represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 and various non-physician healthcare workers, such as nurses aids and housekeepers, are represented by 1199 SEIU.

“Nurses and resident physicians are responsible for providing the majority of care in Montefiore facilities, and we often confront the same issues and challenges at work— our roles are different, but our fight is one fight,” said Karine Raymond, a nurse and NYSNA chair at Montefiore Weiler. “NYSNA members are proud to be in solidarity with residents and fellows as they fight for a say in their working conditions and the excellent patient care the Bronx community deserves.”

Montefiore did not comment on whether the institution would voluntarily recognize the union but sent a statement to the Bronx Times applauding the medical center.

Montefiore Einstein is nationally recognized for clinical excellence, and for delivering patient-centered care to the most diverse urban areas in the country where the population is global, the disease burden is high and the need for quality care is great,” a spokesperson said. “Our residents come here, armed with a passion to address those challenges and a commitment to carry those experiences into the demanding roles they are likely to step into. Our success and our reputation are grounded in the world-class training we provide and the compassionate care we extend not just to our patients, but to our residents and all who make the selfless commitment to provide care here.”

Montefiore also has campuses in Westchester Square and Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties.

This article was updated to include a statement from Montefiore on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes