The University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA), a union that represents resident physicians, blasts UW Medicine leadership in a newspaper advertisement to be published in The Seattle Times on Sunday.

“Our working conditions have taken a toll on our wellness and ultimately a toll on our ability to care for our community,” the union of about 1,400 physicians wrote, singling out UW Medicine CEO Paul Ramsey and claiming he was not doing enough to support the physicians.

The residents in the union represent about one-fifth of physicians in King County, according to UWHA. The union has been in protracted contract negotiations with UW Medicine, and bargaining has produced tensions exacerbated by COVID-19 and the strain it has put on health care workers. 

UWHA was founded in 1964 but was only recognized by the state as a collective bargaining unit in 2014. Members agreed to their first three-year contract with the UW in 2016, making this the first time they’ve renegotiated a contract. 

UWHA’s contract expired at the end of last June. 

The residents are publicly pushing for better working conditions, pay and benefits that better reflect the expense of living in Seattle. In the letter to Ramsey, the residents say they sometimes work 80 hours a week or more but struggle to meet child care, rent and loan payments. 

Medical and dental residents at UW Medicine last fall staged a short walkout, in which residents took 15-minute breaks at the same time, to call attention to their negotiations with the university, which have been going on since January 2019.

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All nine Seattle City Council members this week urged UW Medicine to negotiate an equitable contract.

“It is concerning that these healthcare providers, who are so crucial to the wellbeing of our communities, have not been offered an equitable contract appropriately valuing their hard work, dedication, and commitment,” the council members wrote. “The work they do and the care they provide is essential to this region’s health, especially in the midst of the public health crisis that coronavirus poses.”

Susan Gregg, a UW Medicine spokeswoman, said UW Medicine has been negotiating in good faith with UWHA since last summer and the two sides had met 30 times as of April 29. Ten sessions have been facilitated by a state-appointed mediator, according to the UW labor relations website.

“Residents and fellows are critical members of our healthcare community,” Gregg said in an email. “We have attempted to make a compelling offer as part of bargaining, taking into account the value residents and fellows bring to our healthcare system, remaining competitive as an employer and training institution, balanced with our system finances. That offer includes benefits in addition to increased salary.”

Another bargaining session is scheduled for May 14.