GRAMERCY — Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital is fighting back against its medical residents' bid to unionize, saying they aren't eligible to organize because they're students, not staff.
The Gramercy hospital wrote in legal papers to the National Labor Relations Board last week that the federal body was wrong to clear the way for its 415 residents to vote next week on whether to join the Committee of Interns and Residents, which is part of the Service Employees International Union.
Although 25 other hospitals in New York City alone have residents who have unionized, Beth Israel argued in its May 28 papers that its residents' program is less professional than those with unions and that its residents "are not employees."
Dr. Daniel Steinberg, director of Beth Israel's internal medicine residency program, testified that his residents were unable to evaluate patients or make decisions as quickly as attending physicians.
"The residents have not reached that level of competency yet," Steinberg said.
Dr. Pierre Kory, a pulmonologist at Beth Israel, told the NLRB that even third-year residents need an attending physician's help to do "almost anything of importance."
Union representatives said they found the hospital's stance "insulting."
"Resident physicians work 80 hours a week, are on payroll and deal with life-or-death situations every day," Dr. Sepideh Sedgh, CIR president, told DNAinfo New York. "We think patients would be shocked to hear that the physicians who are operating on them or their loved ones are [considered] merely students."
Dr. Amanda Harris, a family medicine resident, also rejected the hospital's claim that residents are students but not workers.
"It's part of the medical profession to be a lifelong learner," she said. "All doctors are students and will always be students of medicine. But our labor is important and integral to the running of the hospital."
Mount Sinai Beth Israel and the NLRB declined to comment.
Earlier this year, the NLRB approved the Committee of Interns and Residents' call for residents at Beth Israel to vote on whether to join the union.
The vote, which will be decided by a simple majority, will go ahead June 11 and 12 as planned, but the outcome will not be final until the NLRB decides on Beth Israel's appeal.
Harris said she wanted to unionize because she believes it will give her more decision-making power at the hospital.
"We're really the front line of care that patients receive in the hospital," she said. "We're there and we have good ideas. We're all looking to make it a better place, so give us that forum."
She added that some residents wanted union protections because they were concerned about Beth Israel's 2013 merger with Mount Sinai.
Harris said that no matter what Beth Israel officials say, they clearly rely on the residents.
"They say we're just students," she said, "but if we all suddenly got sick, there would be a real problem at the hospital."