Union calls for Legislature to investigate UC hospital system

03/08/2013 12:00 AM

03/07/2013 10:35 PM

A union deadlocked in contract talks with the University of California said Thursday that the system's medical facilities are understaffed, waste money and put patients' health in jeopardy.

Kathryn Lybarger, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, said lawmakers and state authorities should investigate everything from the university system's debt and staffing policies to its constitutional autonomy from the Legislature.

"All of this calls for more oversight," Lybarger said.

Dwaine Duckett, the UC system's vice president of human resources, countered that the 22,000-employee union's complaints and its appeal to the Legislature were bargaining ploys. The local's contract expired last year and talks for the 15,000 or so hospital employees it represents have reached an impasse.

"They have a habit of trying to negotiate contracts in public and not at the bargaining table," Duckett said. "To that end, they'll put out negative information about the UC in order to gain bargaining leverage."

Duckett said that the union has balked at negotiating employee pension contributions, despite a new law that requires public employee labor groups to bargain the higher payments from their members.

"(AFSCME has) basically said they will not sign up for it," Duckett said.

In an interview with The Bee, Lybarger side-stepped questions about the union's position on public pension reform. The report's release isn't timed for bargaining advantage, she said.

"We've been seeing these issues at the campuses for some time," Lybarger said. "This really is a call for help from legislators and the public."

The 36-page report draws from official records, news accounts and employees' anecdotes. It presents a UC hospital system that the union says routinely cuts corners, sacrifices patient care for money, runs up debt and enriches top administrators while understaffing patient-care positions.

The charges follow a rough public-relations patch for the UC system, whose critics have included Gov. Jerry Brown.

Last November, after voting against a $50,000 pay hike for the incoming UC Berkeley chancellor, the governor vowed to press the system "for greater efficiency, greater elegance and modesty."

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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