Five Seattle City Council members are supporting doctors in training who recently unionized and who are negotiating with the University of Washington for better pay and benefits.

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Five Seattle City Council members have thrown their weight behind doctors in training who recently unionized and who are negotiating with the University of Washington for better pay and benefits.

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant, Lorena González, Nick Licata and Jean Godden sent a letter to UW President Ana Mari Cauce this month urging her to meet demands of the association that represents about 1,500 doctors who are UW residents and fellows.

“We write to express our support for the University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA) and to urge you to meet the UWHA’s reasonable demands in contract negotiations,” their letter says.

“These physicians provide an invaluable service to our community and deserve to be compensated fairly. Shockingly, however, many of these physicians earn less than our city’s hourly minimum wage.”

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UW officials are reviewing the letter, university spokesman Victor Balta said Thursday.

Established in 1964, the UWHA was mostly dormant during the 1980s and 1990s, according to the association’s website. It became active again starting in 1999. In 2013, members proposed making it a state-recognized collective-bargaining unit.

The UW petitioned the state Public Employment Relations Commissionto block the move, arguing that the residents and fellows were students paid stipends rather than employees paid salaries. But the commission sided with the residents and fellows, who last year voted to unionize.

They say they account for about one-fifth of King County’s doctors and they want higher pay, new child-care benefits and free parking. Some UW residents and fellows earn so little that they qualify for welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Seattle City Light Utility Discount Program, according to the UWHA.

Their on-the-job responsibilities can include performing surgeries, counseling patients, managing intensive-care-unit patients and managing overnight hospital care.

The residents and fellows, whose appointments normally range from three to seven years, work at several facilities across the city, including Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and Seattle Children’s hospital.

Andrew Korson, 34, a gastroenterology fellow in his sixth year at the UW, said he struggles to support and spend time with his wife and two young children. When he started at the UW he made $59,000. He now makes a little more than $65,000.

“I generally work 70 to 80 hours a week. I work one to two weekends a month and I work overnight once a week,” Korson said.

Many doctors in training will go on to make a lot of money. But salaries for residents and fellows have not kept pace with increases in medical-school debt and living costs, Korson said.

Many people graduate from medical school as much as $250,000 in debt, he said. And they should be paid fairly for their work as residents and fellows, he added.

The UWHA says it has proposed that residents and fellows earn the same salary as the UW’s lowest-paid physician assistants, be offered need-based stipends for off-site child care and receive free parking.

The association says the UW has proposed a 2 percent salary increase and no change in child-care benefits. It says the university recently raised parking rates.

The UWHA is one of only two independent unions of residents and fellows in the country, according to the association. The other is at the University of Michigan.

The Committee of Interns and Residents, affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, represents more than 14,000 doctors at dozens of hospitals in seven states.