News & Commentary

March 20, 2023

In today’s News and Commentary, residents and fellows at Mass General Brigham hospitals prepare to unionize, divisions in the New York Times NewsGuild union deepens as contract negotiations remain ongoing, the six-month Pittsburgh Post-Gazette strike turned violent on Saturday, and Los Angeles schools prepare to close this week as workers plan to strike.

Residents and fellows at several Mass General Brigham hospitals are organizing to join the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) affiliate. The unionization effort is geared towards doctors in their post-medical school training period, which consists of three to seven years of residency and another possible one to three years in a fellowship. These doctors often work 80-hour weeks and report being pressured to underreport hours. MGB argues that their residents earn higher than average salaries, even when compared to expensive cities such as New York and San Francisco. Union organizers contend that these salary figures are misleading as they do not compare benefits such as retirement matching. Residents and fellows depend on letters of recommendation and network connections from hospital administration, stalling unionization efforts for years. Department chairs at Mass. General and Brigham and Women’s sent an “open letter” calling for the residents and fellows to “move beyond” the unionization effort and focus their attention on working together. Organizers plan to file paperwork and hold an election before June. If successful, CIR would become one of the largest unions representing medical residents and fellows in the country.

The two-year deadlock between the New York Times and the NYT NewsGuild union intensified last week. A.G. Sulzberger, the Times publisher, communicated with the union’s bargaining group for the first time, conveying dismay at the stalemated negotiation process and suggesting that the union is refusing to negotiate in person in small groups. The union disputes this claim. Within the Guild, there exist several divisions regarding the role and strategy of the union. The fractures in the union deepened in the wake of the Guild’s response to recent New York Times’ transgender coverage. After staff and contributors penned an open letter to The Times condemning its excessive attention to the debate surrounding transgender children’s access to gender affirming care, the Guild defended these employees’ rights to “engage in protected activity to address workplace conditions.” Some union members expressed disappointment in the union’s response, claiming it undermined journalistic integrity by encouraging alignment with advocacy groups. Some members have expressed interest in working with a third party mediator as suggested by management. The union held a one-day strike in December, and many members would like to vote to authorize another strike.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s six-month strike became violent over the weekend, with a contracted driver physically assaulting a picketer. Video released by the newspaper shows the driver punching a striker who approached him yelling taunts. The striking worker was hospitalized due to the altercation. The Post-Gazette hired a security firm trained in labor conflict to monitor the picket lines. The strikers walked out in response to a new contract which increased healthcare premiums for workers. The union is calling on the Department of Labor and the state of Pennsylvania to investigate the event.

In response to stalled contract negotiations, Los Angeles Unified School District employees plan to walk off the job next week in a three-day strike. SEIU Local 99, representing approximately 30,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians and other district employees, is seeking a 30% raise, 25% more than the district has offered. District superintendent Alberto Carvalho posits that the contract proposal is an “historic offer” which would increase wages by 5% this year and another 5% in 2024, as well as provide one-time bonuses. The proposed strike would result in the closure of more than 1,000 schools from Tuesday through Thursday. LAUSD communicated with parents, advising them to make childcare plans for the coming week. The LAUSD’s teachers’ union, representing nearly 30,000 teachers, decided to stand in solidarity with Local 99 and will not cross the picket line.

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