Historic physician strike ends after 3 days
A tentative deal has been reached after more than 150 trainee doctors at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens initiated a 3-day work stoppage, marking the first physician strike at a hospital in New York City since 1990.
The union represents approximately 170 resident physicians who are employed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai but who work at Elmhurst Hospital, a public hospital in Queens that became known as “the epicenter of the epicenter” during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Among the physicians’ main concerns is that they are paid about $7000 less per year working at the public hospital in Queens, where they provide care for underprivileged patients, than their counterparts who work at more affluent institutions in Manhattan.
“Mount Sinai residents perform the same job across our hospitals,” Tanathun Kajornsakchai, MD, said in the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIRSEIU) press release. “Yet Mount Sinai is paying its union doctors who work in crucial safety-net hospitals less. Striking is the last thing that we want to do, but we feel we will have no choice if Mount Sinai does not address our demands.”
The union announced that their tentative agreement not only grants a wage increase of 18% over a span of three years, starting from November 2022, but also includes several other beneficial provisions. These provisions consist of a $2000 ratification bonus, a legally binding commitment to discuss hazard pay, an adjustment to the meal allowance to match that of Mount Sinai Hospital residents, and the establishment of a transportation committee. Additionally, the doctors have successfully secured chief differential pay of $3500, holiday pay, and ACGME leave. The contract is set to remain in effect until June 30, 2025. Residents are to return to work Thursday, May 25.
“This fight was always about power, and Elmhurst residents are truly building that together,” said Sarah Hafuth, MD, in the announcement on the end of the physician strike. “Getting a multi-billion-dollar revenue employer like Mount Sinai to move this far really shows what our movement as residents can achieve — even up against the most flagrant union busting and profit-driven corporations. Mount Sinai will now have to think twice about leaving Elmhurst behind and perpetuating these disparities for union doctors in the future. I also know that we are part of a larger ongoing fight for justice in our lives and in health care — and we plan on continuing that fight.”
Victory beyond pay parity
Elmhurst hospital is a safety-net public hospital in Queens with a largely immigrant patient base. In March of 2020, a resident physician called their experience “apocalyptic” after more than 13 patients died in a 24-hour period, some still waiting for a bed, the New York Times reported.
“It feels so unjust that we, as largely immigrant doctors serving this working-class immigrant community in Queens, have to beg to get what we need to pay our rent, and from a corporation like Mount Sinai that touts its commitment to New York communities,” Kajornsakchai said, in the union release announcing the physician strike. “Mount Sinai should invest in the doctors caring for so many people in Queens who cannot get care anywhere else.”
Beyond pay parity, the physicians said Mount Sinai couldn’t agree to “hazard pay language for the doctors who served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” and that Mount Sinai’s behavior felt both “racist and anti-union.”
The residents at Elmhurst were the third hospital in New York to authorize a strike within the last month. Approximately 300 doctors were set to strike earlier this month at Jamaica and Flushing hospitals, but were called off when the union reached an agreement with MediSys Health Network.
In January, thousands of New York State Nurse Association members went on a three-day strike at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
Fellow Mount Sinai residents at Morningside/West locations announced their authorization to strike with a 99% vote on May 23. The start date of the strike is not yet announced.