United Physicians Assistants of Michigan Medicine members and supporters rally for bargaining support outside of University Hospital Tuesday morning. Becca Mahon/Daily.  Buy this photo.

The United Physicians Assistants of Michigan Medicine (UPAMM) rallied outside University Hospital Tuesday in support of their bargaining team. The team is in the middle of a weeklong contract bargaining session with hospital administration on the terms of the union’s first contract. Nearby drivers honked at physician assistants and other labor group members lining the street and holding signs reading “equity, transparency, respect.”

UPAMM gained official recognition from the University in June 2020, and they have been bargaining for their first contract since September. The contract will govern the working conditions for PAs, from how paid time off is earned and redeemed to how raises are allocated to the handling of grievances. General Surgery PA Hatim Elhady said UPAMM is broadly fighting for fair treatment and respect from Michigan Medicine administration.

“The bargaining team’s goal with negotiating with hospital administration is to create a respectful, transparent workplace for physician assistants in Michigan Medicine and to ensure that we are valued and respected for the work that we do,” Elhady said. “We’re just asking for what everyone else is getting: equity with our counterparts, such as nurse practitioners and other advanced providers.”

Emergency Department PA Alicia Lewan agreed, saying PAs are on the front lines of the pandemic and need time for themselves.

“We’re hoping for a fair contract that will ultimately restore that work-life balance that a lot of us have kind of lost touch with in the last year or so with the pandemic,” Lewan said.

UPAMM members were joined by nurses with the Michigan Nurses Association, as well as members of United Auto Workers and campus unions including the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO).

Rackham student Karthik Ganapathy, a GEO member, said he came to the rally to show solidarity with PAs.

“We are out here to show that we really care about this,” Ganapathy said. “The University can’t just say that they value essential workers. They need to show that by giving them what they deserve.”

Elhady said UPAMM’s genesis was over a year of organization in response to reductions in benefits for PAs.

“As time went on, some of our pension started being taken away, our PTO (was) off, the treatment with nurse practitioners (was) a little different,” Elhady said. “Finally, after a while, we stood up and said, ‘Hey, this is not fair.’ … The pandemic, if anything, shed the light on everything and made it transparent for everyone else in the hospital and the community to see how physician assistants are being unfairly treated.”

A source close to the negotiations told The Michigan Daily the bargaining team is specifically looking to clarify the raise process, protect work-life balance and establish a proper grievance process for PAs.

Director of Public Relations Mary Masson wrote in an email to The Daily that Michigan Medicine is making good progress in its negotiations with UPAMM, calling PAs “crucial members of (Michigan Medicine’s) healthcare delivery teams.”

“Michigan Medicine has spent the past six weeks diligently working with United Physicians Assistants of Michigan Medicine (UPAMM), which represents about 350 physician assistants, to build a new contract from the ground up,” Masson wrote. “We look forward to the final discussions this week and are confident we will reach a fair and equitable agreement.” 

Elhady called for support from the U-M community, emphasizing the importance of getting the University’s respect.

“Support the physician assistants,” Elhady said. “What we’re hoping for: respect, transparency and equality in the workforce, along with our counterparts here at the University of Michigan.”

Summer News Editor Dominic Coletti can be reached at dcoletti@umich.edu