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Michigan Medicine physician assistants' union wants transparency, equity in its first contract

hatim elhady with UPAMM holds a sign at a rally
Caroline Llanes
Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan's Board of Regents recognized United Physician Assistants of Michigan Medicine, or UPAMM, in July of 2020. Now, the union is bargaining for its first contract with Michigan Medicine.

Nearly 50 members and community members gathered at E. Medical Center Drive on Tuesday to show support for the bargaining team, which is on day four of its seven day bargaining marathon.

Members of the Graduate Employees Organization and the Lecturers' Employee Organization were among those who showed up.

Focuses of the bargaining team are respect, equity, and transparency. Members are especially concered about burnout and work-life balance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hatim Elhady is a physician assistant in Michigan Medicine's General Surgery department. He says for all the important work physician assistants do, they don't have representation in what goes on in the hospital. 

"Any type of policy or decision making within the hospital, we don’t have a seat at the board as physician assistants. We are not represented. We’re just neglected and forgotten, unfortunately. I hate to use those words but they are the words," he says.

Physician assistants serve a variety of roles, including prescribing medication, diagnosing illnesses, and developing and managing treatment plans. They also often do a lot of the face-to-face interactions with patients.

Elhady says physician assistants began organizing in 2018. He says there was a lot of hesitation at first, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of minds, as people were abruptly re-assigned and re-deployed to meet the growing patient needs.

"Once the pandemic hit, sort of, you could say it shed light on everything. They’re like, oh my god, we’re doing so much for this university and volunteering and helping all these patients, and we’re not getting that respect, equity, (and) transparency," he says.

Mary Masson, spokesperson for Michigan Medicine, provided the following statement:

Michigan Medicine is entering our final week of negotiations with our valued physician assistants, who are crucial members of our health care delivery teams and have been so influential in keeping our patients safe during this pandemic. Michigan Medicine has spent the past six weeks diligently working with United Physician Assistants of Michigan Medicine (UPAMM), which represents about 350 physician assistants, to build a new contract from the ground up. We look forward to the final discussions this week and are confident we will reach a fair and equitable agreement.

Editor's note: Michigan Medicine is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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