In a vote of 1,215 to 412, medical residents and fellows at Mass General Brigham hospitals voted to join the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 
Union organizers say they hope to achieve better pay to accommodate the region’s high cost of living and financial support for childcare. Other priorities include lower health insurance costs, compensation for supplies physicians use for work, and financial support for patients. 
The win creates one of the largest unions of its kind in the country. 
In a statement to the Boston Globe, Dr. Kayty Himmelstein, a member of the organizing committee said, “I’m excited to celebrate and to get to work negotiating our new contract. It [the vote] sends a pretty resounding message.”
Residents and fellows often work 80-hours per week, and some say the pressures have escalated in recent years. 
During the organizing drive, the health system announced it would provide 10 percent raises and $10,000 stipends to resident and fellows to accommodate the rising cost of living. The system said the increase was part of larger salary adjustments it began last year, but organizers credited the union effort. 
The vote follows a national trend as CIR-SEIU membership has almost doubled since early 2021 from 17,000 to 30,000 today. The union currently includes residents at Stanford Health Care, the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center in New York, and Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
In Massachusetts, Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Health Alliance have been unionized for several years. Residents and fellows at UMass Medical School unionized in 2021. The negotiated their first contract last summer. 
At Mass General, doctors in the post-medical school training period, which includes an initial residency that lasts between three and seven years, depending on specialty, will be covered under the union contract. As well, those completing a fellowship — post residency — would be covered. 
According to the union, the organizing drive began more than two years ago and has faced intense pushback from hospital management. The union says that management covered the walls with posters enumerating the reasons to vote no and circulated videos and text messages with similar messages.
During the grassroots effort to unionize, organizers say they got their information out largely through word of mouth. The organizers coordinated coverage for colleagues as they took time out of their shifts to vote, and staff showed up at the polls despite the demands of the job. Some came in from parental leave; others showed up at 5:30 in the morning before operating room cases began. 
Himmelstein said, “it is an effort that reflects how much we care about this and how essential it is for our own wellbeing and patients.”
And for Himmelstein, it is personal. She has one more year left in her fellowship, is nine months pregnant and has seen firsthand how difficult it is juggling doctor’s appointments and managing the cost of future childcare. 
Talking about her circumstances, Himmelstein told the Boston Globe, “That added urgency for me, personally, to say, ‘we need a mechanism to advocate for ourselves to take care of ourselves and our families [so we can] focus on our patients while we’re at work.’”