More than a thousand resident physicians at the University of Michigan health system say they’re frustrated and insulted by contract negotiations that have stalled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Negotiations over the 3-year contract began in January. The current contract runs through the end of June.
Second year anesthesiology resident, Dr. Ruth Bickett-Hickok, said in a press call Monday she’s been treating COVID-19 patients and bargaining with hospital administrators for a cost of living increase.
“Frankly I’m here because, for lack of a better term, Michigan [Medicine] residents right now are being exploited for their labor. Especially during this crisis,” Bickett-Hickok said.
Bickett-Hickok is on the board for the union, University of Michigan House Officers Association (HOA).
“I have gone to in-state public schools throughout my entire education. I have more than $400,000 in debt from undergrad and medical school and in no way am I able to make adequate payments on my student loans with my current contract,” she said.
HOA says the sticking points are over cost of living increases, retirement contributions and parking. The union wants Michigan Medicine to use a small portion, $3.5 million, of the University’s endowment funds to help cover the three year contract.
HOA president, Dr. Meg Smith, is a general surgery resident who says her fellow residents have been happy to step up to help take care of COVID patients.
“It’s also taken a physical and emotional toll on us and trying to demonstrate our value is incredibly frustrating. And we just feel that we deserve a fair contract and we deserve it now,” Smith said.
Because of the financial impact of COVID-19, U of M has taken a number of moves to cut costs including wage and hiring freezes.
Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson says the health system "recognizes the important role of the members of our House Officers Association, who are both employees and learners."
The compensation package offered enables Michigan Medicine house officers to maintain their market-competitive position. Presently, our house officers’ salaries, which range based on experience from $58,500 to $82,900 annually, lead the market when compared with residents and fellows at other institutions.
Michigan Medicine is undergoing a $400 million expense reduction plan with furloughs and layoffs totaling approximately 1,400 full-time employees. To meet the HOA’s demand for even higher salary increases, Michigan Medicine would have to eliminate additional jobs.