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The Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of residents and fellows organizing for official union recognition at Mass General Brigham during a council meeting Wednesday.
The resolution, initially introduced by Boston City Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune, Elizabeth A. “Liz” Breadon, and Kenzie Bok ’11, calls on MGB to recognize MGB Housestaff United, a union campaign by MGB residents and fellows that began publicly organizing in March.
“We’re talking about housestaff who work ridiculous hours caring for our most vulnerable — our patients who need good healthcare, and Mass General Brigham could have a positive story here,” Louijeune said in an interview. “They could voluntarily recognize the union.”
“It’s so obvious that they’re in this for the long haul, they’re not giving up,” she said of the housestaff.
Organizers say they have support from a majority of residents and fellows and filed an official petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on March 4, one day after their request for voluntary recognition was denied.
During the meeting, Louijeune said the city should ensure that municipal employees receive a minimum, livable wage to “set an example for our employers here in the city.”
“That is true for our doctor trainees, for the doctor, the fellows, the interns, and the residents at Mass General Brigham,” she added.
“This step will help build a system that not only ensures the safety and well-being of our physicians but also takes a look at our healthcare industry in general,” Louijeune said.
Organizers said workplace safety, burnout prevention, and adequate compensation amid rising inflation are top priorities.
“For a lot of our trainees, it’s not a livable work environment, and it can create a situation where we lose potential great doctors along the way,” Bok said at the meeting.
“The support is welcome, and I think it really shows that this effort is about Boston, it’s about workers’ rights in general,” said Sascha N. Murillo, an MGB Housestaff United organizing committee member. “I think that’s why the city council is really standing behind us, because Boston is a union city.”
Murillo, a third-year Internal Medicine resident, added that “we’re all trying to show solidarity across different fields in Boston.”
After they began to collect union authorization cards in secret, residents and fellows began receiving emails from MGB expressing appreciation for their work and informing them of new compensation increases taking effect.
Since November, trainees have received a surprise $3,500 bonus, a 10 percent raise, and additional benefits including expanded health insurance.
“Training programs should never be an opportunity to exploit workers, so a union can help secure residency and fellowship programs that allow participants to focus on becoming the best physicians they can be for the community without worrying about affording basic needs such as rent,” the resolution reads.
Jennifer Street, the senior vice president of enterprise communications at Mass General Brigham, wrote in an emailed statement that MGB is committed to supporting its employees.
“We have always worked directly with residents, placing tremendous value on their education; training the next generation of physicians is critical to our mission as academic medical centers,” Street wrote. “Through inclusion of residents as part of decision-making on matters critical to their programs, we are prioritizing the balance of clinical service and learning with providing professional and personal support.”
“Come July, our residency programs will be the highest paid in the country,” Street added.
In the interview, Louijeune called upon MGB to “come to the table, not engage in union-busting, to listen to the doctor trainees, be there with the union.”
In a response to claims of union-busting, Street wrote that Mass General Brigham uses advisors with relevant knowledge “to ensure we are working within the appropriate framework,” particularly concerning legal matters.
“While we consider advice from counsel as part of our process, ultimately Mass General Brigham is responsible for all decision-making related to our medical trainee programs,” Street wrote.
According to MGB’s website, the hospital system believes “there are important reasons to support an approach other than collective bargaining in medical education.”
“MGB could choose to voluntarily recognize the union, and they have chosen not to, and so we want to just make it clear that we stand in solidarity with all of you,” Louijeune said.
Organizers held a press conference April 19 during which they spoke about the importance of joining the Committee of Interns and Residents, a local of the Service Employees International Union, the parent union of MGB Housestaff United. At the conference, Massachusetts Nurses Association president Katie Murphy also spoke in support of the unionizing housestaff.
“It means the world to us that they would come out in such public support of us, and I think that it’s already applied some pressure on the institution,” Murillo said.
—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at email@example.com.
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