Montefiore rejects call to voluntarily recognize union for resident physicians

Montefiore will not voluntarily recognize residents’ unionizing efforts as requested earlier this week.
Photo ET Rodriguez

Montefiore declined to recognize a resident physicians’ union, saying the best way to determine status is through the National Labor Review Board’s secret ballot election process, according to union organizers.

Residents and fellows — medical school graduates undergoing training while working for the medical center — on Tuesday morning announced their intentions to unionize with the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), a branch of Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Organizers called on Montefiore to immediately voluntarily recognize the union by a Friday deadline.

But organizers said they are disappointed in Montefiore’s decision, as they have almost 70% of support among house staff (residents and fellows). A supermajority of residents have signed authorization cards in favor of joining CIR, organizers said.

“Montefiore’s refusal to recognize our union shows they are still not listening to their frontline healthcare workers,” Dr. Noa Nessim, a Montefiore resident, said in a statement released by organizers.

In a statement to the Bronx Times on Friday, Montefiore spokesperson Joe Solmonese said that The National Labor Relations Act guarantees residents the right to determine whether or not they should be represented by a union.

“We respect their right to make that decision through a secret ballot process, free from outside influence,” he added.

Montefiore did not directly address the organizing efforts when contacted by the Bronx Times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but rather sent a statement applauding the institution.

“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 Tuesday. “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.”

Dr. Nakita Mortimer, a first-year Anesthesiology resident, told the Bronx Times on Wednesday that while she understands Montefiore might need time to figure out how they want to respond, she was still disappointed by their statement, calling it “classic political deflection.” 

“It almost sounds like a justification of ‘hey, we’re already doing pretty well,'” she said. “And that’s not necessarily what we want here. Montefiore by no means is the worst place to be a resident. I wouldn’t say that at all. Could it be better? Absolutely.”

Mortimer said that while the prospect of unionizing can come across as polarizing, it can instead be collaborative and improve the flow of communication between workers and administrators.

Organizers haven’t detailed their exact demands, but sent a summary of their desires, like orientation pay, compensation that better reflects the number of hours they work and enough staffing, Mortimer said.

Dr. Isuree Katugampala, a third-year pediatric resident at Montefiore, said workers also want to be compensated for extra shifts they pick up to fill in for sick colleagues, yearly bonuses and better family leave policies. Residents and fellows, who are salaried, can find themselves working more than 80 hours a week and take on extra ancillary tasks that can distract from their training because of understaffing in the hospital, she said.

The union effort has garnered public support from a handful of elected officials, including Bronx assemblymembers Karines Reyes and Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera.

Residents at the Montefiore Wakefield campus are already unionized with CIR, having organized in 2001 prior to Montefiore buying the campus in 2008 after Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center filed for bankruptcy.

This article was updated on Nov. 4 at 3:48 p.m. to include a response from Montefiore.

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