More than 90% of voting resident physicians at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens voted to authorize a strike on Wednesday.
Elmhurst’s resident physicians are employed by Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine and represented by a union called the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR). The union has been in talks with Mount Sinai about a new contract since last July, but it says the health system has failed to bargain in good faith.
Mount Sinai also employs resident physicians at its flagship hospital in Manhattan. Elmurst’s resident physicians have noticed several differences in the way these residents, who are not unionized, are treated compared to them.
For starters, there’s a significant difference in compensation, Dr. Tanathun Kajornsakchai said in an interview. He is a representative of CIR and an adult psychiatry resident at Elmhurst.
The salary for a doctor in their first year of residency at Elmhurst is $68,355.93. This base salary hasn’t been increased since March 15, 2021.
On March 15 of last year, the base salary for a physician in their first year of residency at Mount Sinai Hospital increased to $75.186. On July 1, this salary will be raised by 6% to $79,697.
The chief residents for each program at Mount Sinai Hospital get stipends in addition to their compensation, but there are no stipends given to Elmhurst’s chief residents, Dr. Kajornsakchai added.
There are also major disparities between the benefits and perks granted to the two groups of resident physicians. For example, residents at Mount Sinai Hospital have educational benefits, such as free learning materials and trips to conferences, but Elmhurst residents don’t, Dr. Kajornsakchai said. Mount Sinai Hospital residents also received hazard pay early on in the pandemic, whereas Elmhurst residents had to “plead, beg and petition” until they were finally granted hazard pay at the end of the first wave, he explained.
The residential living and transportation benefits provided to the two groups are also starkly unequal. Mount Sinai Hospital residents get “subsidized housing in the heart of Manhattan,” but Elmhurst residents don’t receive any subsidized housing, Dr. Kajornsakchai pointed out.
“A lot of Elmhurst residents are immigrants — they’re moving their whole family to do this training, and they’re left to fight with the real estate giant of New York City. Some of us don’t even have a bank account open because we just got here. A lot of us don’t even have a credit score, let alone social security numbers, which are still processing. Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to overpay for our apartments in luxury buildings because they are less strict. Or we end up in living conditions that might not be suitable for us to live in,” he declared.
When coming home from shifts that end in the middle of the night, Elmhurst residents must choose between either taking the subway home or paying for their own ride. For Mount Sinai Hospital residents, they can charge their Ubers and Lyfts to the health system in these instances, Dr. Kajornsakchai added.
He said that his union has been pointing out these disparities to Mount Sinai for a while now. The bargaining has been going on for 10 months.
There was a period in late 2022 when Mount Sinai refused to come back on the table for at least three or four months, Dr. Kajornsakchai said. CIR had to “petition and fight” by sending letters to the health system’s upper management to come back to the table.
“We do not want to strike. But if management does not come to an agreement with us, we won’t have a choice. Mount Sinai has to avert the strike by agreeing to us. If we don’t get a lot of movement from Mount Sinai, we will strike and we will do what’s best for us. Treating us better is directly treating the patients better as well,” he explained.
Mount Sinai said that it is working with the NYC Health and Hospital Corporation — which determines the salaries for resident physicians in the city — to offer a counter proposal to the resident physicians at Elmhurst.
“We remain committed to working with NYC Health and Hospital Corporation and the residents to resolve the situation in a way that is fair and fiscally sustainable while ensuring that the residents’ clinical training is not disrupted,” the health system said in an emailed statement.
The Elmhurst residents’ decision to authorize a strike comes just a week after resident physicians at two other Queens hospitals — Jamaica Hospital and Flushing Hospital — voted to authorize a strike if they do not resolve their own bargaining agreements by May 15.
Almost 500 physicians could end up striking if all three of the hospitals have to go through with their plans.
Photo: FilippoBacci, Getty Images