UCD Medical Center workers join systemwide one-day strike

UC Davis Medical Center workers in Sacramento joined hundreds of other University of California hospital employees Wednesday walking picket lines at the system’s medical campuses for a one-day strike.

An estimated 200 patient care and service workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 carried green-and-white picket signs in the morning drizzle outside the medical center’s main entrance on XStreet at Stockton Boulevard. The union represents 22,000 UC employees who work in a broad swath of occupations including emergency room assistants, respiratory therapists, custodians and office staff.

The hospital had rescheduled some surgical procedures on a busy Wednesday and filled some shifts with replacement workers, according to Carol Robinson, UC Davis Medical Center’s chief nursing officer. She estimated about 75percent of union-represented medical center staffers were expected to report for work.

AFSCME Local 3299 remains in a tense contract dispute with the University of California over working conditions, wages and benefits. Workers said Wednesday that they were demonstrating for improved patient and worker safety.

“We have one person doing three jobs. That’s not safe for patients,” said Andrea Whaley, a UCDMC operating room assistant, on the picket line. “Everybody here appreciates their job. It’s not about that. It’s about patient safety and worker safety.”

Union officials said the strike was born out of a “coordinated campaign of illegal intimidation and harassment” from UC administrators against striking medical workers in May. They alleged that administrators issued verbal and written warnings to employees planning to picket, AFSCME attorneys said in a complaint filed Sept.12 with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board.

“It’s clear that the UC community saw something fundamental at stake,” said AFSCME spokesman Todd Stenhouse. “They understand that when voices are illegally silenced, people’s safety is at stake.”

But UC officials rejected union accusations that hospital managers tried to intimidate workers, saying the state “has not determined any wrongdoing.” They also insisted that staffing levels are not a concern.

They say the real issue is not patient care and worker safety, but AFSCME’s rejection of pay and pension concessions as part of any new labor contract.

UC spokeswoman Brooke Converse called the patient care issue a “diversion tactic.” She added that Wednesday’s systemwide strike “hurts the very same people they say they’re trying to protect. This is about pension reform. We gave movement on health care and benefits. They need to be flexible and bring some ideas.”

Stenhouse said AFSCME has already agreed to a number of concessions from wages to retirement age to address what he calls “the growing staffing crisis on our campuses,” and said his union will sit down to bargain “any day, anytime.”

Statewide, some 400 workers picketed at UC Berkeley, 500 at UCLA and hundreds more at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara, along with “several hundred” out in the rain at UC San Francisco, said University of California officials. Union leaders said the turnout was higher than May’s two-day labor stoppage and was joined by students, research scientists, faculty and lawmakers at some sites.

Kevin Carrico, a UCDMC central processing staffer, estimated that only about half of his department joined the picket Wednesday “partly because of fear. They’re afraid of reprisal. I’m passionate about what I do for a living, but I always think it could be better.”

The California Nurses Association had threatened to join AFSCME workers Wednesday, but the union reached a tentative contract deal over the weekend that includes a no-strike clause.

University of California officials tried to block Wednesday’s strike, but a Sacramento Superior Court judge on Tuesday allowed the demonstration to occur, save for a few dozen employees deemed “essential,” including seven UCDMC respiratory therapists who work with children requiring intensive care.

Robinson said striking workers would be able to return to work Thursday.