U of M resident doctors ‘frustrated’ after 5 months without wage deal

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More than 1,300 resident physicians at the University of Michigan Hospital are fighting for fair wages as they risk their own health to provide care for COVID-19 patients.

They’ve spent the past five months negotiating with hospital administrators to get a raise, and now they’ll have to wait a little longer. A meeting Monday night between the physician residents’ union and hospital administrators did not move the discussion forward.

University of Michigan | Andrew Roth

The University of Michigan House Officers Association (HOA), which represents the health system’s 105 residency programs, began negotiating with administrators in January. At the time they were $20 million apart. Now they’re down to a $6 million difference.

“Members of HOA are feeling frustrated and apprehensive about working at Michigan because a deal still hasn’t been reached,” said Tarter.

According to HOA Executive Director Robin Tarter, the university’s offer last month came in at approximately $293 million to pay wages over the course of three years. HOA’s counter proposal was $299 million over three years. The last discussion about this issue took place in April, according to Tarter. 

U of M Hospital residents’ salaries range, based on experience, from $58,500 to $82,900 annually. The salary ranges would be increased, based on experience, from $60,000 to $90,000 annually, according to Tarter.

HOA President Dr. Meg Smith said she and other resident physicians feel undervalued because they make less than a first-year nurse in the Michigan health system.

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“We’ve taken an oath to take care of whoever is there the best that we can,” said Smith. “As of late, though, we have been asked to be complacent about the lack of actual negotiating that’s been going on, although the residents are an integral part of the huge revenue gained by the hospital.”

HOA board member Dr. Ruth Bickett-Hickok said she and her fellow resident physicians aren’t asking for much.

“It’s fair compensation,” said Bickett-Hickok. “We urge the hospital administrators to negotiate a fair contract with us and to do it quickly.”

HOA bargaining team member Dr. Kimbie Casten said the group had to push back its negotiations because an agreement hadn’t been reached before the pandemic.

Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson said the university’s health system has honored the compensation package previously proposed to HOA, which includes salary increases.  

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“The University of Michigan Hospital is undergoing a $400 million expense reduction plan with furloughs and layoffs totaling approximately 1,400 full-time employees,” said Masson.

Masson added that the U of M Hospital would have to eliminate additional jobs to meet HOA’s demands.

Casten has suggested that the hospital dip into the university’s $12.4 billion endowment, which is typically used for funding student scholarships and supporting medical research.

University President Mark Schlissel announced last month that the endowment would be kept intact in order to continue supporting scholarship and the long-term stability of the university.