LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Members of the union representing resident physicians and interns at three Los Angeles County hospitals have voted to approve a strike authorization, officials announced Tuesday.
The Committee of Interns and Residents, part of the Service Employees International Union and commonly referred to as CIR/SEIU, represents more than 1,300 resident physicians and fellows at LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center.
The strike authorization vote, prompted by stalled contract talks with County officials, began May 16 and ended Monday. Ninety-nine percent of voting members voted "in favor of striking if necessary," according to a news release.
"The results of our vote show how committed we are across our hospitals and across our departments to taking this next step if we need to," says Dr. Mahima Iyengar, a first-year internal medicine-pediatrics resident at LAC+USC Medical Center. "This is a mandate and we got it because all of us understand that this is ultimately about wanting to give everything to the communities we serve, and ensuring we have what we need outside of work to focus completely on patient care when we're in the hospital."
In a statement issued when voting began two weeks ago, union officials said if the strike were approved the physicians and interns would join "tens of thousands of other LA County employees who have exhausted their options as the County continues to engage in surface bargaining in the workers' contract negotiations."
The union's most recent contract expired on Sept. 30, 2021 and negotiators are asking for a 7% raise as part of a new agreement. In a statement to the media on Monday, the L.A. County Chief Executive Office, which handles contract negotiations, had expressed optimism that a strike could be avoided and said services to the public are expected to continue without interruption.
Residents physicians, or interns, are considered doctors in training who have graduated from medical school and gain on-the-job experience while providing medical treatment and other services to patients. Salaries at Los County facilities generally range from $50,000 to $65,000 a year.
But many say they have been working long hours, especially as hospitals have at times been overrun with COVID-19 patients and faced with staffing shortages due to the pandemic.
"We're doctors, and people see us with white coats, so they think we make what you would think a doctor makes," Camila Alvarado, a second-year family resident at Harbor UCLA, said during a news conference earlier this month. "But in residency, if you divide by the number of hours we work, which is about 80 hours a week, we actually make about minimum wage, if not less than minimum wage."
In addition to higher wages, the union is asking for an improved benefits package and better working conditions.
Union officials have accused County negotiators of failing to address these key contract proposals and engaging in bad faith bargaining conduct. On March 31, resident physicians joined other disgruntled County employees in marching on the Board of Supervisors and staged a march out of their hospitals on May 5.
"Not only have we continued to give our all every day to ensure our hospitals can run smoothly through this health crisis, but we have marched, we've spoken out, we've used every tool to settle this contract and get the pay and benefits we need to live, while the County has offered us nothing in response to some of our most urgent proposals," Dr. Mahima Iyengar, an internal medicine and pediatrics resident at LAC/USC, said in an op-ed piece for MedPage Today. "We don't do so lightly, but the Board of Supervisors is leaving us really with no choice but to take this strike vote, and I'll be proud to vote yes."
City News Service contributed to this report.