Organizers with University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA) estimate that 450 residents participated in a 15-minute "unity break" outside hospitals across Seattle, including Harborview, UW Medical Center, the VA, and Seattle Children's.
At noon on Wednesday over 100 of those residents gathered across the street from UW Medical Center in their scrubs and white coats, snacking on sandwiches and holding picket signs high in the air. The doctors walked off the job—briefly, and during lunch—in protest of an "unacceptable" contract the university proposed during bargaining, which has stretched on for months. UW residents, who say they're the lowest paid in the country when you account for the cost of living, are asking for better wages, child care, housing stipends, time off, and transportation programs.
"We just want to serve patients in the best way possible," said Krishna Prabhu, an internal medicine resident. "Easing some of these burdens and the stress will help."
Along with housing and getting enough time off to prevent burnout, one of the larger burdens facing residents is child care. For Amelia, a second-year pathology resident with a one-year-old, the two days of child care UW offers isn't enough, and the years-long waitlists make it difficult for her to find quality care. "I would have had to sign up before I started interviewing to get my kid in [to UW's program]," she said. The lack of options means her husband, a software developer, has to work from home to take care of the kid.
The 15-minute "unity break" was the first time Amelia had ever demonstrated. "A lot of times we're too busy to get out here and stand up for ourselves," she said. "Most of us will just take care of patients, get our work done, and just go home because we don't have much left after that."
Jessie Goodman, a third-year psychiatry resident with two kids, said working long, odd hours forced her to hire a nanny to take care of her young children. "The cost of the nanny equaled my after-tax resident salary," she said. "This meant my entire salary went to my nanny."
The residents were joined in solidarity by members from SEIU 925, UAW 4121, Seattle Council Member Kshama Sawant, and city council candidate Shaun Scott.
Sawant called for the entire labor movement to stand with the residents, and said the lack of benefits and decent pay was "appalling" considering the fact that University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce "is paid more than $900,00 a year." Her base pay last year was nearly $750,000.
Scott said he was there to show solidarity. "This is one more fight in a long fight students have been waging against neoliberal universities since I went to school ten years ago," he said.
After the brief demonstration, the crowd at UW walked into the hospital to drop off a petition with Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, dean of the UW School of Medicine. The document, which had 778 signatories, demanded an increase to pay and benefits "to reflect the work we do and keep up with the cost of living increases in Seattle." For some reason, the doctor was not in.
UWHA goes back to the bargaining table tomorrow afternoon.