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‘We have reached a breaking point’: UW Medical residents demand contract reform in Seattle Times ad

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The University of Washington Medical Center is quiet on April 1, 2020.

Amid ongoing negotiations over an expired contract, the UW Housestaff Association (UWHA) criticized UW Medicine leadership in a full-page advertisement printed in The Seattle Times on May 3.

“Today, we have reached a breaking point,” the union representing 1,400 medical residents and fellows wrote, addressing the ad to UW Medicine CEO Paul Ramsey. “Our working conditions have taken a toll on our wellness and ultimately a toll on our ability to care for our community.”

Alex Adami, treasurer of UWHA, said he came up with the idea for the ad during a particularly frustrating negotiation session with the UW and UW Medicine. 

Adami initially wrote the first draft and over the course of several weeks, he worked with other members of the UWHA board to finalize the ad before sending it to The Seattle Times.

With many of the key points based on data, Adami said there was a long research process involving comparing UW Medicine to the top 50 medical schools in the United States, and found it shocking to see how much better residents from other schools are treated.

“Many of these peer institutions are also programs that are suffering from loss of state funds as UW is, but they value their residents and the hard work they do enough to more fairly compensate them,” Adami said. “[These other] institutions clearly value their residents as people, not just as workers to fill shifts.”

In response to the ad, Ramsey said in an interview they are still unable to change their “last, best, and final offer,” partly due to the financial hardship resulting from UW Medicine's COVID-19 response

This offer includes a 2% salary increase per year for the three-year contract, with additional compensation and benefits.

“Our offer was driven by financial circumstances before the pandemic and in line with other contract negotiations across campus,” Ramsey said. “The extreme COVID-19 financial impact does not permit us to make any further movement.”

UW President Ana Mari Cauce told The Daily she also supports the proposal that is currently on the bargaining table.

“Our residents are a vital part of the university and our healthcare system, and there is no question that we value the important work they do day in and out,” Cauce said. “While it can be frustrating not to get everything you want in a final contract, our offer was developed in good faith, taking into account their most important requests.”

However, Adami said if the union agreed to this offer, residents would ultimately make less money each year than the last.

“UW has been consistent in disguising its action behind language designed to sound good,” Adami said. “They say this is not a pay cut, but if you were told that your salary would go up less than inflation, would you call that a pay cut? I would.”

Zoe Sansted, vice president of operations of UWHA, said this proposal also offers less than their prior contract that expired in July, which had a 3% salary increase.

“It’s just made dealing with the COVID-19 crisis even harder as a doctor, to know that all these claims of appreciation are kind of empty because at the end of the day, they’re trying to force us to sign a contract where the raises don’t keep up with the cost of living,” Sansted said.

At this point, Ramsey said UW Medicine urges the residents to vote to accept their last proposal. If they cannot reach an agreement, he expects that a contract based on the terms of their latest offer will go into effect July 1.

In spite of this, Sansted said the union is not planning to back down any time soon.

“It’s been really hard for me to step away from patient care and my education for so many hours of negotiation to try to improve the lives of my 1,400 colleagues and fight for what’s right,” Sansted said. “But we want to make sure [the] UW knows that they’re not going to get away with treating us like this.”

The next negotiation session will be held May 14 at 3 p.m. More information can be found on the UWHA website.

Reach reporter Shannon Hong at Twitter: @shannonjhhong

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