May. 22, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
More than 100 resident physicians and interns employed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai gathered outside of Elmhurst Hospital on Monday morning, May 22, to begin their five-day ULP strike for better pay and benefits.
The physicians, who are unionized with the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), said that they’re fed up after almost a year of bargaining with the corporate health system on pay parity and other various benefits including education, transportation, leave, sick leave, meal stipends and hazard pay.
The residents said that Mount Sinai has created a two-tiered system of healthcare by providing their non-union resident employees with higher wages and benefits.
This is the first time in 30 years that doctors have gone on strike in the United States, according to Dr. Tanathun Kajornsakchai, a union delegate and fourth-year psychiatry resident at Elmhurst.
“We’re not here to make history. We’re here to expose the toxic healthcare system that exploits its workers and health corporations who use shady, union-busting tactics to weaken our union,” Kajornsakchai said. “We’re here because Mount Sinai residents here at Elmhurst have had enough. Mount Sinai is pitting workers against each other by offering better salaries to non-union colleagues and we’re here to expose this system that constantly puts profits over the well-being of people.”
Dr. Yanique Ellis, a resident physician who has been a doctor for 10 years and has been employed at Elmhurst for two years, said the doctors are “striking today because of unfair labor practices and bad faith bargaining” that they’ve had to encounter with Mount Sinai.
“We haven’t received the parity we’ve been fighting for over a year,” Ellis said. “We weren’t getting anywhere in our bargaining sessions. No matter what, pay does not affect our patient care. However, what it does affect is our ability to do simple things like rent an apartment, be able to afford groceries, and be able to do simple recreation with our kids.”
There have been residents who were denied applications for apartments because their pay is not up to standards that landlords feel comfortable renting to, according to Ellis.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to make ends meet, especially if your partner is unemployed. I just want people to know that we’ve always loved Elmhurst, we will continue to, that will never stop,” Ellis said. “But we really do want equal pay for the equal work that we do.”
Members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSA), who led a three-day strike and won a tentative agreement earlier this year, said they’re proud to support the CIR union resident doctors who are on strike for a fair contract.
“We’ve fought alongside through the worst of the pandemic — caring for all our patients. Shame on @MountSinaiNYC for paying their doctors at Elmhurst Hospital less than what they deserve!” NYSA said.
Elmhurst Hospital was known as the “epicenter of the epicenter” at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospital made national headlines after being inundated with coronavirus patients, including 13 who died in a 24-hour period.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr., who joined the doctors at the picket line, thanked them for their sacrifices while saving patients during the pandemic.
“We remember the days of this pandemic early on, and on and on, the lives lost, the communities impacted. It was you who were on the front lines,” Richards said. “It’s not good enough for Mount Sinai and others to bang pots and pans at the height of the pandemic, but then not give you your pay parity, and you’re just due as we make our way through. It was you who allowed this city to open up, make no mistake.”
In his remarks, the borough president sent a message to Mount Sinai.
“We’re not here to beg you to give them their just due … we’re here to demand you do it. You ought to treat them with dignity and respect,” Richards said. “How could you deny them what you owe them? We’re not gonna play second fiddle to Manhattan, those days are over. The people of Queens, who put their lives on the line, the borough that was most impacted by this pandemic, deserve nothing less than investment and investment in its residents.”
City Councilman Shekar Krishnan, who also joined the doctors at the picket line, said that he has seen how the doctors take care of the most vulnerable New Yorkers at Elmhurst Hospital daily.
“Mount Sinai, pay our public hospital workers the same wages you pay your others across the city. It’s a moral obligation,” Krishnan tweeted.
City Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers took to Twitter to show her support for the union.
“I stand with Elmhurst Hospital’s resident physicians, who have begun today the first physicians strike in over 30 years,” Brooks-Powers wrote. “These doctors work around the clock to serve New Yorkers and keep us healthy. The least they deserve is pay parity.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.