ACME Local 570-SCUT
By Matthew Lilly ...
(Deep, dramatic voice à la Law and Order)
In the Newfoundland healthcare system, the people are cared for by two separate yet equally important groups: the doctors, nurses and technicians who provide professional care, and the clinical clerks who… well, we don’t really know what they do. These are their stories.
Date: May 28, 2004. One day after the Class of 2004 graduation.
Scene: Medical school lobby. Present company includes 240 medical students and a CHMR journalist who is half asleep in the comfy chairs. Dr. John O’Martin, Class of 2004 president, stands at a podium overlooking the crowd.
Dr. O’Martin: On March 24, 1999, 4,600 Newfoundland nurses went on strike. On Oct 31, 2000, 765 faculty members and librarians at Memorial University went on strike. On April 1, 2001, NAPE and CUPE went on strike. On October 1, 2002, Newfoundland’s physicians went on strike. On April 1, 2004, 20,000 NAPE and CUPE members struck again. Strikers are on a striking streak, and although they deserve every dollar they struck for, the provincial government must be awestruck and about to have a stroke.
The right to strike is, of course, only one of the benefits of a union. But without a union, one cannot strike. The aforementioned unions have all struck. I ask you, which group of healthcare workers has not yet struck? The clinical clerks.
Who are the clinical clerks? Those white coat-clad, palm pilot-pocketing, confused and disoriented-looking doctors-in-training that are present in all areas of the hospital. Commonly confused for interns or residents, nurses or janitorial staff, they’re everywhere and ironically nowhere. They are third and fourth-year medical students who are being paid $37.50 a week for their healthcare services while dishing out $120 a week for tuition alone. (Except for the true, the proud, the Americans who pay five times that amount.)
The key question is: are the clerks members of a union?
In essence, yes. Undergraduate medical students are represented by the Memorial University Student Union, Canadian Federation of Students Local 35. This position is currently held by the brilliant and illustrious medical student Raman Verma. We also are represented by the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. The efficacy and power of these connections alone, though, is insufficient in meeting our requirements as valued members of the province’s healthcare team.
Based on a secret ballot that was repeated in triplicate, accurate 19 times out of 20, the clinical clerks voted on the formation of a clerks’ union. Under the acronym ACME, Angry Clerks for Medical Education, Local 570-SCUT, the union will, among other benefits, allow for the possibility of strike action if such a course becomes desirable in the future.
Reporter: You can’t be serious?
Dr. O’Martin: As serious as the name ACME implies.
Dr. O’Martin: Look, the time has come for representation, for respect, for benefits and increased wages! Double pay for every minute spent waiting in radiology!
(cheers from the crowd)
The time has come for less scutwork, silk white coats, call rooms with plasma screen TVs and water beds, free lunch buffets and pharmaceutical company drug samples!
Reporter: What gives you the right to demand such ridiculous terms, like, like, less scutwork?!
Dr. O’Martin: Being part of a union.
Reporter: (flabbergasted) And you want more money.
Dr. O’Martin: Clinical clerks provide a quasi-essential service for which they are compensated $37.50 a week. During an internal medicine rotation, with 1-in-4 call, a clerk will work approximately 265 hours per month. That is equivalent to a salary of 61 cents per hour. During an obstetrics-gynecology rotation, that’s 57 cents/hour. Back in 1912 you could buy a kettle of fish for 57 cents. Today you could get 57 gummy bears or half a cup of coffee. If clerks could live off coffee, which some have tried with a resultant ICU admission, their salary would allow for a purchase of five cups of coffee a day. Depending on the amount of sugar added, that could, grant it, meet their daily caloric requirements, with a trade-off for vitamin-b12 deficiency anemia, ricketts and scurvy. Subtract the amount they’re paying for tuition ($1.85/working hour) and you end up with an armless, legless, first-born-less clerk admitted to 4SA on TPN.
And hence the necessity for a line of credit at their local bank. And don’t get us started on student loans.
(Groans from the crowd. Pause.)
Reporter: Well, what could St. John’s expect if all the clinical clerks tore off their white coats, burned their Toronto Notes and headed for the picket lines?
Dr. O’Martin: If the health care corporation suddenly became clerkless? You’d see a dramatic increase in soft tissue injuries in surgery housestaff from the lack of human retractors. Obstetrics triage would become a longterm care home. And… staff wouldn’t know the results of X-rays or CT scans for days later. And, well, you’d see a dramatic decrease in… people dressed in white coats hanging around the hospital.
(Pause. Reporter shakes her head and leaves, mumbling obscenities.)
Some random clerk: I like ACME, but we’re really not that angry. What about “Advanced Clerical Mutts for Enslavement?” Or maybe “Admit to Clerk with no Medical Expertise”?
(Fade to black; Large block lettering on screen: Executive Producer: Hippocrates)