University of Washington administrators say they’re committed to striking a fair deal with newly unionized medical residents and fellows.

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University of Washington brass say they’re committed to providing the UW’s medical residents and fellows with decent compensation and benefits, but they insist the newly unionized doctors in training are asking too much in contract negotiations.

The residents and fellows are paid $53,268 to $69,792 a year, which is competitive with what their peers are paid across the country, the UW’s vice dean for graduate medical education wrote in a letter to Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

Byron Joyner, the vice dean, was responding to a letter from O’Brien and four other council members last month urging UW President Ana Mari Cauce to meet the demands of the University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA).

The UWHA’s roughly 1,500 members are physicians who have graduated from medical school and are working under supervision before practicing on their own.

Their responsibilities can include performing surgeries and managing intensive-care-unit patients and overnight hospital care. They work at facilities like Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and Seattle Children’s hospital.

The group won collective-bargaining rights last year over UW opposition, and its members are asking for much higher pay, new child-care benefits and free parking.

“The UW appreciates the dedication and skill of our residents and fellows,” Joyner wrote in his letter to O’Brien and other council members. “Their contributions are critical to successful patient outcomes and to the mission of our academic medical center and affiliated sites. We recognize and acknowledge their tireless work and commitment to providing high-quality care and service to all of our patients.”

But the vice dean argued that the doctors already are getting a good deal.

“UW postgraduate medical education training programs are among the top-ranked programs in the country,” Joyner wrote.

“The opportunity to receive training in a given specialty is the fundamental purpose of a residency or fellowship, and without this advanced training, these physicians would not be proficient in the specific area of medicine that they have chosen to pursue.”

The association has proposed that residents and fellows earn at least the same salary as the UW’s lowest-paid physician assistants. Because the doctors in training work very long hours, they sometimes earn less than Seattle’s minimum hourly wage, the UWHA has said.

The council members, in their letter to Cauce, called the situation shocking. And based on information from the UWHA, they wrote that some residents and fellows qualify for welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The eligibility requirements for TANF are strict, however. For example, a household must have resources of $1,000 or less and the maximum income limits are quite low.

Andrew Korson, a gastroenterology fellow on the UWHA’s negotiating team, said a single resident responding to a survey of members reported having qualified for TANF.

The resident was part of a family of four and was doing research, not clinical training. Some programs require residents to spend a year on research, and during that time they earn less. The UW and UWHA have discussed doing away with such pay cuts.

Talks have been stalled for some time but are set to resume this month with a mediator assigned by the state Public Employment Relations Commission.

The two sides “remain far apart in the area of compensation,” Joyner wrote in his letter. But progress has been made in other areas, said Amity Neumeister, assistant dean for accreditation in Office of Graduate Medical Education.

Neumeister noted that the UW provides the residents and fellows with a matched-contribution retirement plan. Most universities don’t offer that benefit, she said.

O’Brien, who circulated the letter to Cauce for his colleagues to sign at the request of the UWHA, was unavailable for comment.