LAC+USC physicians begin strike authorization voting

Resident physicians and fellows represented by the Committee of Interns and Residents/Service Employees International Union at LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center began voting on the authorization of an unfair labor practice strike Monday. The move follows months of bargaining on a new contract, during which Los Angeles County has not met the union’s proposals and has repeatedly canceled bargaining sessions, according to a May 11 press release from the union. 

If the vote passes, the CIR/SEIU bargaining team will be authorized to decide to strike should the union be left unsatisfied with L.A. County’s bargaining practices and offers. An affirmative vote will not automatically push all member-doctors into a strike. 

“We are getting to the point of authorizing this vote that, hopefully, [L.A. County] will realize that we’re not going to take this lack of proposals and this bad faith bargaining and just roll over,” said Dr. Adam Freeman, a third-year resident pediatric physician at LAC+USC and one of CIR/SEIU’s bargaining team members. “We are going to fight for what we believe is right for us.”

After two weeks of voting, if the physicians’ ability to strike is authorized, the union will “seriously consider” the possibility of a strike, Freeman said. 

CIR/SEIU member contracts are renegotiated every three years with revised salary raises and benefits. The latest contract expired last fall, though negotiations for a new agreement were postponed to the spring due to the state of the coronavirus pandemic at the time, so the existing contract rolled over. 

“[L.A. County] comes back just refusing, saying ‘no’ to some of the proposals or not even coming to the meetings or coming unprepared to meetings, despite their assurances in the fall that they would come and it would be a quick, efficient process,” Freeman said. 

The union’s proposals include a salary floor increase of 10% amid rising costs of living in L.A. — area prices have risen 7.9% compared to April of last year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Seeing as the housing bonus awarded to the three hospitals’ residents is “very low compared to other hospitals,” Freeman said, the union has also proposed an increase in the amount allotted to residents as a housing stipend paid additionally to the base salary. 

“We love working at the hospital and working with our patients, but at a certain point, we do need to be able to live in California,” Freeman said. “This is kind of a last resort, but it’s not something that we’re doing lightly.”

The union’s requests are not only economic, Freeman said. The CIR/SEIU team has also promoted a diversity proposal that would build on diversity training to help physicians better care for patients who are part of underserved groups, as well as a proposal regarding education benefits. 

The L.A. County Department of Health Services reaffirmed in a statement to the Daily Trojan Monday that labor negotiations are ongoing at the L.A. County Chief Executive Office. 

“Our health services could not be possible without our workforce members who deliver best-in-class care,” the statement read. “We want to thank our workforce members for their heroic efforts throughout the pandemic and as we move towards a better normal.”

If members move to authorize and later initiate the strike, the residents and fellows would become the first in their union to do so in 32 years. 

The strike authorization voting will continue until May 31.