A group of doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center have petitioned to form a union that would represent just over 900 resident physicians and fellows, according to union organizers.

Ari Goldstein, a member of the union’s organizing committee, said the group delivered a letter to the medical center’s management Thursday afternoon asking for recognition. Organizers said they had a brief, congenial meeting with management after delivering the letter.

“We’re one of the main engines that make the hospital work, along with nurses, along with techs,” Goldstein said. “The hospital has to have us to function.”

Organizers said a “super majority” of workers who would be in the union have signed cards indicating their commitment, but declined to give an exact number. The residents and fellows at UMMC have organized with the American Federation of Teachers-Maryland.

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The group at UMMC would not be the AFT’s first medical union in Maryland, but it would be their first resident physician unit, said Umesh Pakalapati, a staff organizer with AFT.

Medical residents and fellows are physicians who are still in various stages of training, but they are degreed doctors. Residents typically have heavy workloads, including shifts that last for 24 hours or more. The University of Maryland Medical System said there are about 900 residents and fellows working at UMMC and about 1,200 attending physicians.

When the union files with the National Labor Relations Board, hospital management could grant them voluntary recognition. If UMMC and the union do not come to a voluntary agreement, the NLRB would schedule an election in which the employees who would make up the union vote in a secret ballot whether they want to approve the union.

AFT-Maryland President Kenya Campbell said the state federation is eager to work with the workers at UMMC and ready “to support them as they advocate for themselves and their patients.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for UMMC confirmed a group of medical residents and fellows presented a demand for union recognition.

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“The work of our medical residents and fellows is foundational to the world class compassionate care we provide to Marylanders and we are grateful for their deep commitment to our patients,” the statement read. “UMMC is at all times guided by our core values, which include compassion, integrity and excellence. It is with these values in mind that we will review the materials shared today.”

Goldstein is a third-year family medicine resident. He said organizing his colleagues was difficult, not because people needed a lot of convincing that unionizing was the right thing to do, but because it was hard to find time to talk.

“You’re stretched very thin already,” working as a resident or fellow, he said.

Goldstein said the union will push for higher salaries and improved benefits, including things like health care costs and retirement plan matching. He also said having a union will allow the residents to speak up for patient concerns and advocate when they see issues around the hospital.

“Everybody who is in this knows residency and fellowship are going to be hard. We’re not trying to get around that. We want to learn, we want to serve patients,” Goldstein said. “We want to deliver quality medical care.”

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Jes Leuchtenburg, a third-year resident who works in internal medicine and member of the organizing committee, said the union doesn’t want to make things combative with management at the hospital.

“This is not about us trying to like, fight back. This is us saying, ‘We want to work with you,’” she said. “The conditions are untenable; we want to work with you to figure out how we can make them better so we can all take better care of the people of Maryland.”

Other hospitals in Maryland do not have physician unions, but some have nurse and other health care worker unions. Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore nurses voted to form a union in November.

Chelsea Cosner, a fellow in childhood and adolescent psychiatry and member of the organizing committee, said forming the union has been a way for them to build and contribute to something that will carry on even after they leave the hospital.

“It’s something that we’ve worked really hard for, for a long time. I’m really hopeful for all the residents, all the fellows who have done so much work for it,” they said.

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This is a developing story.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify that the union has not been federally recognized.

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