Residents and fellows at Mass General Brigham filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on April 4 after their request for voluntary recognition was denied the day prior.
MGB Housestaff United first began collecting union authorization cards in November, before launching publicly in February. According to Sascha N. Murillo, organizing committee member and a third-year Internal Medicine resident, the campaign now has a clear majority of support from residents and fellows at MGB, the largest hospital system in Massachusetts.
If the NLRB verifies that at least 30 percent of workers eligible for representation under MGB Housestaff United have signed cards, the board will direct an election for official recognition, only granted if a majority of eligible workers vote in favor of a union.
Committee of Interns and Residents, a local of the Service Employees International Union, is the parent union of MGB Housestaff United. Annie Della Fera, a communications coordinator for CIR, said while organizers had hoped for voluntary recognition, “it’s pretty common for them to reject recognition and instead have residents go through the NLRB election process.”
Within hours of the request, MGB Interim Chief Academic Officer Paul J. Anderson wrote in a message that the hospital system would not recognize them, adding that the hospital prefers to “work directly with our trainees as individuals” on resolving workplace issues.
“We agree with the NLRB and the federal courts, which have described the NLRB’s secret ballot elections process as the gold standard in determining whether a majority of employees desires union representation,” Anderson wrote.
After MGB Housestaff United started organizing last fall, residents have received multiple compensation increases, including a $3,500 bonus and a 10 percent salary raise. Senior Vice President of Enterprise Communications at Mass General Brigham Jennifer Street wrote that employees have seen an total increase of 31 percent to compensation and benefits on average since the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
The increased compensation makes MGB’s training program the highest-paid in the country, she added.
The campaign has received endorsements from high-profile politicians including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“I call on @MassGenBrigham to hold a fair and transparent election that is free from intimidation,” Sanders tweeted.
In his email denying voluntary recognition, Anderson wrote that “peer pressure” could contribute to “the unreliability of union cards as an indicator of employee support.”
“In recent weeks, some trainees have shared with their program leadership that they were pressured to sign cards,” Street wrote.
An NLRB election allows housestaff to “make their own decision with no one knowing how they voted,” she added.
MGB Housestaff United members have said their online and in-person campaigning efforts have not aimed to force trainees to sign cards.
“There is no coercion,” Murillo said. “It’s just that kind of messaging is really just a way to try to make the campaign look bad. I think that is really operating in bad faith with us.”
Della Fera said the claim of peer pressure is “very common” from employers.
“A card check completely legitimate and valid way to form and have a union certified. It’s done frequently and it’s just as democratic as an NLRB election,” she said.
“These are just people talking to their coworkers,” she added.
Della Fera also predicted that MGB will try to “create division within the unit.”
“I anticipate that they will likely push back and want to delay things,” Murillo added.
Hospital leadership have been holding meetings with trainees about unionization, with some seeking to dissuade employees from joining MGB Housestaff United, according to Murillo.
Over the past two months, residents have also been receiving emails from department chairs and MGB administrators discouraging them from signing cards.
“This is not the time to slow our progress, or adopt a different means for engaging with each other — collective bargaining — that is not a good fit for our program or our relationship,” read one document sent to housestaff March 16.
According to Avi Bukhbinder, a first-year resident and MGB Housestaff United organizer, those emails have “become more frequent in the past few weeks.”
“I think the tone and the tenor of those communications has really remained the same. It’s kind of a veiled ‘We don't want this for you, you shouldn’t want this for you,’” Bukhbinder said.
Though the hospital system declined to recognize MGB Housestaff United, Murillo said she is confident they will be able to gain official recognition.
“We have carried this campaign out with integrity and we really feel like we have very strong support,” she said. “We’re going to win.”