Essay: Other UC medical residents are winning labor contracts, so why not at UC Davis?
By Arunima Kohli
More than a year ago, UC Davis Medical Center interns, residents and fellows were recognized as members of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU union. For nine months, we have bargained in good faith to address issues impacting our ability to uphold the highest standards of patient care and provider well-being.
Following the recent ratification of resident physician contracts at UC Irvine and UC Olive View, my colleagues and I are left to wonder: “Why not UC Davis?”
Currently a third-year family medicine resident, I pursued medicine to serve people and communities who need my help. But when I and my fellow residents struggle with debt, depression, overwork, insomnia, shame, anxiety, work-family balance and numerous other stresses, being fully present for our patients can be incredibly challenging. The line between selfless action and exploitation blurs, which is why we have been driven to unionize and why UC Davis residents demand a fair contract now.
“We don’t want to be called heroes; we want a contract that guarantees safe, humane working conditions.”
Since contract negotiations began in September 2019, the UC Davis Medical Center administration has repeatedly stalled the process for weeks or months between bargaining sessions, and has declined to offer counteroffers to the proposals we have put forward to help address the growing stresses and inequities we face.
We regularly work 80 hours per week in 24-plus-hour shifts, yet we still find the time to participate in negotiations outside of work, often coming straight from the hospital to the bargaining table. With minimal movement toward an acceptable contract over all this time, the UC Davis administration has shown its residents that we are not a priority.
We need a fair contract to recognize the new and growing financial challenges facing UC Davis’ medical trainees. We are paid less than $15 an hour and are required to live within 15 to 20 minutes of the hospital in one of the fastest growing California housing markets. Many of us have hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt. Our other UC colleagues have won housing stipends and cost-of-living wage increases; we have received charts with out-of-date housing costs.
Now, after increased public attention and activism on our part, the hospital administration has finally offered us a small cost-of-living increase as negotiations drag on, but this comes nowhere close to making us whole.
Our working conditions directly impact our ability to provide excellent patient care. But our proposals for basic necessities—such as access to safe housing and nutritious meals—have not been taken seriously. We cannot sustain providing high-quality care to our patients and communities if UC Davis does not meet our basic needs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when residents were called upon to do more than ever and we feared for our safety, the UC Davis administration publicly thanked us as heroes while making absolutely no moves toward a fair contract. We don’t want to be called heroes; we want a contract that guarantees safe, humane working conditions, and that allows us to keep up with the rising cost of living and to support our families.
As the only unionized UC staff without a contract, the interns, residents and fellows at UC Davis are asking for parity with our UC colleagues to allow us to provide the best patient care possible, especially as our community reopens and backlogs of necessary care await us.
We can only do our best work when we have the greatest institutional support—and we are still waiting.