Stanford Health Care physicians demand union recognition

Feb. 22, 2022, 11:18 p.m.

Over 65 percent of housestaff physicians at Stanford Health Care, constituting a supermajority, formally demanded today that Stanford voluntarily recognize the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) as their exclusive collective bargaining representative.

Stanford has two days to recognize and respond to the supermajority. If accepted, the physicians’ demand would ensure the unionization of the over 1,300 residents and fellows at Stanford Health Care. CIR, the group that would represent the Stanford residents and fellows, has previously represented other housestaff physician groups in the Bay Area, including residents at the University of California at San Francisco, who successfully unionized in July 2017.

Should Stanford Health Care deny the demand on the grounds that it doubts the physicians’ supermajority status, the physicians may file with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which would arbitrate the process of verifying the supermajority.

The impetus behind these unionization efforts is that many of Stanford’s housestaff physicians feel “left out” of the major decisions being made by Stanford Health Care, according to second-year resident physician in adult neurology Meaghan Roy-O’Reilly M.D., Ph.D. Roy-O’Reilly pointed to a previous standoff between housestaff physicians and Stanford Health Care in December 2020, when frontline health care providers protested against a hospital vaccination plan that would have excluded most residents and fellows from the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“I hope that nothing like COVID ever happens again,” Roy-O’Reilly said, “but should it happen, we’ll be in a position to advocate for our wellness and for all of those things that make Stanford a great place.”

Roy-O’Reilly also mentioned Stanford Health Care’s rapid expansion as another reason behind the unionization effort, since it would allow interns, residents and fellows to advocate for adequate staffing.

“We’re treating more patients than we ever have before and we’re treating patients who are sicker and more complicated,” Roy-O’Reilly said. “Unfortunately, the growth in staff has not been able to keep pace and it’s put more strain on an already strained system.” 

In the event that Stanford housestaff physicians successfully unionize, they would then proceed to enter the bargaining process with Stanford Health Care. According to Roy-O’Reilly, the process would afford physicians the chance to open a conversation about key issues such as improved parental leave and wellness support for potentially sick or disabled residents and fellows. 

The unionization effort comes amid ongoing scheduled negotiations between Stanford nurses and Stanford Health Care, who have been engaged in talks for weeks about increasing mental health support for nurses and cutting back hours. The Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement, which represents Stanford nurses, has been highly supportive of Stanford housestaff physicians’ push to unionize, according to Roy-O’Reilly.

“They have been touching base with us and giving advice about how to go through the process,” Roy-O’Reilly said. “They’ve been a great source of inspiration and support to us.”

The Daily has reached out to Stanford Health Care for comment.

This article has been updated to reflect that residents and fellows are employed by the hospital and that the vaccine plan was through Stanford Health Care. The Daily regrets this error.

Brandon Kim '25 is a Desk Editor for Campus Life and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chair. He was previously a Managing Editor for The Grind from Vol. 262-263. Now studying philosophy, he has probably tried out every major here. Ask him about baseball, hiking very tall mountains and old-school Korean pop.

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