Resident physicians strike at Elmhurst hospital in Queens, New York

About 150 resident physicians at Elmhurst Medical Center in Queens, New York, began a five-day strike for better wages on Monday. They also are demanding hazard pay for the physicians who worked at Elmhurst during the beginning of the pandemic, when Queens was severely affected. This is the first strike of New York City physicians since 1990, when resident physicians at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital walked out for nine days.

Striking resident physicians at Elmhurst Medical Center in Queens, New York [Photo: WSWS]

Although the striking residents work at Elmhurst, which is a municipal hospital, they are employed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan. No agreement has been reached after almost a year of contract negotiations. The residents are members of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), which has accused management of negotiating in bad faith. 

Martha, a resident physician on the picket line, told the World Socialist Web Site, “We’re not able to survive. It’s shameful!” Her name has been changed to protect her identity. “I’ve had a couple of colleagues who tell me they have holes in their shoes! If you’re going to call us health care heroes when we’re on the front lines and risking our lives, then treat us like health care heroes!”

Like workers everywhere, residents at Elmhurst struggle to make ends meet. “Because of the economy, it has become very difficult to pay our bills,” Martha said. “Inflation is very high, and we’re stretched so thin that a lot of us considered taking second jobs, but we’re not even able to do that, because we’re supposed to be working here 80 hours a week, so there’s no time. So, we can’t even afford to live in the community we’re serving.” Feelings “of need and desperation” have motivated the strike, she added. “We want to be financially comfortable, at a level where we’re able to focus on providing care for our patients, rather than worrying how we’re going to pay our rent.”

Many of the striking Elmhurst residents come from working class backgrounds or are international workers training in the United States. Thus they are sensitive to the fact that they work at a public hospital that serves mostly poor, immigrant patients—and they are paid less than their colleagues in private Manhattan hospitals. The local Democratic politicians and union officials who spoke to the striking residents on Monday relentlessly repeated the theme of “pay parity.” For the Democrats who control city government, this is a self-indictment. It also obscures the fact that resident physicians at public and private hospitals alike are underpaid and struggling. 

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