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A union of Penn Medicine residents and fellows are beginning negotiations with Penn administration for their campaign. 

Credit: Mehak Dhaliwal

Penn Medicine residents and fellows are preparing to enter the bargaining phase of their union campaign.

The bargaining phase will consist of negotiations with Penn administration and Penn's Division of Human Resources to create a contract. It marks the next step in the Penn Med housestaff unionization effort, which started in February with the goal of achieving better working conditions and representation in the hospital system's decisions. 

In early May, nearly 1,000 Penn Med residents and fellows voted to unionize in a National Labor Relations Board election, making them the first housestaff union in Pennsylvania. 

“[The election] was a pretty telling response that the traditional channels in place for healthcare advocacy were not working and that people want to try a new avenue through a union to advocate for safer working conditions, better benefits, and better patient advocacy,” third-year OB/GYN resident Madison Sharp told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

In a statement to the DP, a Penn Med spokesperson said that housestaff remain a “deeply valued part” of the Penn Med community and workforce following the election results. 

“As housestaff begin their work to be represented by CIR-SEIU, we remain focused on our shared goal to provide excellent care to our patients while continuing our work to support the training experience,” the spokesperson said.

Both sides are currently in the process of determining scheduling and logistics. While Sharp hopes that the bargaining phase will start by the end of June, she said that the timeline will depend on the willingness of the employer to negotiate in good faith and come to agreements. 

Sharp emphasized that there is not one single policy uniting the housestaff, but rather a desire to have “a seat at the table and a voice to share concerns and advocate for better working conditions and patient safety.” 

According to Sharp, the union plans to advocate for an increased salary commensurate with inflation as well as expanded benefits, including health insurance without copays and more affordable childcare options. They also hope to discuss changes to retirement matching, improved access to lactation rooms, and response to patient safety concerns.

Organizers previously told the DP that Penn Med provided confusing information about voting location regulations. Penn administration also created a now-removed informational website with an “anti-union bias,” according to organizers.

Sharp said that housestaff received frequent emails and text messages from Penn administration and the Graduate Medical Education program that contained anti-union rhetoric. Penn Med also allegedly posted signage around the hospitals urging housestaff to vote no unionization, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sharp said that she and other organizers worked to counter anti-union messaging through one-on-one conversations, factual information, and a good rapport across departments. 

“Penn’s union campaign focused on trying to divide us and silo us by pitting different departments against each other,” she said. “Our message was about coming together and realizing that we really do share a lot of the same concerns.”