There were many things I pictured myself doing as I endured four years of medical school: building relationships with my patients and their families, performing complicated procedures, sleeping with my shoes on so I could jump up at any moment when I was on call. One thing I didn’t imagine was that I would be learning about and becoming a part of the labor movement.
My experience at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has been a real education. During my first year, I learned that our union contract was soon expiring, and I decided to get involved so that we could negotiate new provisions that would benefit our patients, improve our conditions, and ensure the future of our residency program.
The proposals we presented at the bargaining table were simple. In addition to a modest pay increase, we asked the hospital to contribute $37,000 to a patient care fund, which would allow residents to apply for funding for equipment or projects that meet the needs of our most vulnerable patients.
Now, two years later, we have held 16 bargaining sessions, including four with a federal mediator. We’ve also held a press conference and two rallies outside the hospital. I spend some of my rare downtime meeting with elected officials or asking nurses and technicians to wear buttons supporting our campaign. Despite all of this, the administration has proposed a three-year wage freeze and has continually rejected our other proposals without providing any substantial reasoning or alternative solutions.
Treating the patient population at CHO is a true joy and a privilege. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But it’s very jarring to leave the bedside of a patient and walk into a room where I feel completely disrespected by the administration.
My colleagues and I recently took a vote of no confidence in the hospital’s lead negotiator, after a pattern of showing up late for bargaining sessions, calling us a “loss to the hospital,” and in our last session, refusing to come into the room to hear our counter proposals. Our morale is at an all-time low, as the administration fails to recognize our daily efforts to care for the children of Oakland. I also worry about our ability to recruit the best resident physicians to live and work in Oakland in the future.
I hope the management of Children’s Hospital Oakland will take a good look at the workforce that makes the hospital run and decide to do what’s right. And I urge any other residents in a similar position to stand strong and hone their skills both at the bedside and the bargaining table. When we are empowered, it makes the hospital better.
Ana Liang is a pediatrics resident and a member, Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare.