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Elmhurst Hospital doctors on strike over claims of unequal pay with Manhattan counterparts

Doctors at Elmhurst Hospital on strike
Doctors at Elmhurst Hospital on strike 02:16

ELMHURST, N.Y. -- For the first time in decades, doctors are on the picket line in New York City. 

More than 150 unionized resident physicians at Elmhurst Hospital started a planned five day strike. 

They're demanding pay that's equal to their non-union colleagues at Mount Sinai hospital. 

The last time doctors in New York City went on strike was 33 years ago, according to the New York City Labor Council. 

"That just shows how unfair it is. In 30 years, there has not been a physician strike. This is the first one. That says something," said Youssef Abdel-Gawad, a second year psychiatry resident.

Residents have been picketing around the Elmhurst campus, some after coming off their 12-hour shifts. 

"Low pay, not OK," they chanted. 

White coats were hung up as about 160 resident physicians, part of the committee of interns and residents union, picketed outside of Elmhurst Hospital, demanding equal pay with non-union physicians who work for Mount Sinai. 

"This is about taking power back from people making decisions based on their bottom lines and not human lives. This is about saying that Elmhurst and Jackson Heights are just as important as the Upper East Side," said Dr. Samkit Jain. 

The unionized Elmhurst residents are employed by their academic affiliate, Mt. Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine. They say their non-union counterparts at Mount Sinai's Upper East Side campus make $7,000 more than them annually. 

Union leaders say the disparity is hurtful.

"For doing the same work, for seeing the same patients, for working at the same two hospitals, for working alongside the same attendings. Why not Elmhurst? Why is there a difference? These are hard questions that we've been asking Mount Sinai for answers and we haven't really gotten them," second year psychiatry resident Irfa Khan said.

"In July, when the new residents come in, they'll be making around $11,000 more than us, so it's a pretty big disparity," Dr. Sarah Harfuth said. 

In a statement, Mount Sinai responded that it's "committed to finding a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible," and is offering a 19.1% compounded increase in pay across three years. 

We are committed to working towards an equitable and reasonable resolution that is in the best interest for both our residents at Elmhurst as well as for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and are working closely with partners at Elmhurst Hospital to ensure the same quality and level of care and services that the local community expects and deserves are not affected by the strike. 

We have offered a package that is commensurate or above the tentative agreement between residents at Jamaica and Flushing Hospitals and are committed to finding a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible.

Harfuth picketed after her 12-hour shift at Elmhurst Hospital. She said she's also been going to negotiation meetings with Mount Sinai after work for the past 11 months. 

"It's felt very slow. So it doesn't feel like Sinai's actually trying to listen to our needs and hear us out and meet us at a point where we feel like we're getting equivocal pay," Harfuth said. 

Elmhurst Hospital itself was hard-hit by the pandemic. At one point, more than a dozen patients died with a 24-hour period. It was known as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when it was over 230% capacity. 

"It was them who literally took iPads or whatever electronic devices they could find to show loved ones their family members as they took their last breaths. How could you deny them what you owe them?" Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. 

"We are serving a very unique population, a very special population, a very diverse population, and a population that has little access to health care," said second year internal medicine resident Joya Dupre.

Residents at Elmhurst Hospital also say that their non-union counterparts at Mount Sinai have been in support of the strike. These residents could be picketing for as long as five days if a deal isn't reached. 

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