University of Michigan health system residents approve new union contract


After five months of tough negotiations, unionized residents, interns and fellows at Michigan Medicine have overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract that its executive director says is the best since 2013, when the state’s right-to-work law went into effect.

The contract for 1,300 staffers negotiated with the University of Michigan House Officers Association includes a total salary increase of 8.66 percent along with a 10 percent base pay increase in November they can take as lump sum payment or toward their retirement plan to encourage savings, according to union and hospital officials.

Annual salaries range from about $60,000 to $89,000 for 80-hour plus workweeks, said the HOA in a fact sheet about the contract. Salary increases are 2.41 percent the first year, 3 percent second year and 3.25 the third year of the contract.

“This agreement wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the support the HOA received from Democratic regents like Dr. Shauna Ryder-Diggs, who was a past member of the HOA. She really stepped in and helped us,” Robin Tarter, the HOA’s executive director, said in an email to Crain’s.

Contract talks began in February, but were bogged down by the COVID-19 outbreak and inability early on for the two sides to work with a mediator and agree on terms. The current contract expires June 30.

David Spahlinger, M.D., president of the University of Michigan Health System and executive vice dean for clinical affairs of the U-M Medical School, expressed satisfaction in a statement that the contract was approved before it expired.

“We believe this contract demonstrates our recognition of the importance of our house officers in our delivery of outstanding patient care,” Spahlinger said. “Our top priority is ensuring our patients get the best care possible. Our house officers play a crucial role in that effort, at the same time they are continuing their education and often managing large amounts of student debt. This agreement shows that by investing in them, we invest in our mission.”

Spahlinger said the contract includes multiple initiatives to support wellness and reduce stress and burnout among the house officers.

For example, the contract calls for six weeks of paid parental leave, rules protecting scheduled vacations, an additional personal day and improved advance notice of schedules.

“This new agreement goes a long way to address the needs of our house officers and was overwhelmingly accepted by our members,” Tarter said. “We’ve never had this kind of response in the nine years I’ve been fortunate enough to work with these future leaders.”

Spahlinger said the positive outcome is encouraging, especially since it was accomplished during a pandemic. The house officers were a critical part of Michigan Medicine’s response to COVID-19, he said.

“I want to congratulate the negotiating team members, and we look forward to a continuing partnership with the HOA,” he said.

In 1974, the Michigan Supreme Court granted UM’s HOA the right to unionize as an independent union after a seven-year effort.

Across the nation, resident unions are still fairly rare with about 18,000 of approximate 130,000 residents in the U.S. belonging to a union. The largest resident union with about 14,000 residents is the New York-based Committee of Interns and Residents, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

The University of Michigan Hospitals is the only academic teaching hospital in Michigan that has a resident union. Residents at several other hospitals in Michigan have begun efforts to form a union, but the process is long and hard. Hospital administrators typically fight against union formation.

“Residents have long been considered cheap labor by the institutions in which they train,” Tarter told Crain’s earlier this year during the negotiations. “When any worker is treated in such a way, the workplace becomes ripe for organizing campaigns. If every institution treated trainees like valued members of the team, there wouldn’t be the rise in unionization that we currently see around the country.

This article orginally appeared in Crain’s Detroit Business.





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