Health & Medicine

Picket line grows to 1,400 at UC Davis hospital as two unions add support

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Roughly 1,400 workers picketed for a second day at the UC Davis hospital and campus on Tuesday, as two unions representing nurses and physical therapists, social workers and dietitians went on strike in sympathy with members of AFSCME 3299.

The pickets have rallied throughout the University of California system. Combined, the three unions have about 10,000 members at UC Davis and 53,000 system-wide. Like AFSCME 3299, the California Nurses Association and University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA have been involved in protracted contract talks with the UC.

"Today nurses are here in solidarity with our co-workers, our AFSCME co-workers. We want them to get a fair contract," said Shirley Toy, a clinical nurse on the progressive-care unit and a CNA member. "They've cut clerks, and it falls onto us ... It definitely affects us as nurses because if they're not there, we have to do their work.".

Greg Wine, vice president of the Davis chapter of UPTE, said he was fed up with pay inequities and a dearth of serious bargaining on the part of UC negotiators.

"We have been meeting at the bargaining table, all three unions," he said, "and (UC) are not participating the way that we would like to. It's difficult for all of us to get dates together to meet at the bargaining table."

Toy said she estimates she's losing $1,000 in pay per day by participating in the strike. Nurses do not receive hardship pay from CNA.

Roughly 65 percent of nurses in CNA showed up for their shift, according to counts by UC Davis Health. (Nurse managers and licensed vocational nurses are not represented by CNA and are not included in this count.)

While the unions did provide a 10-day notice prior to striking, UC Davis did not negotiate nurse staffing levels with CNA, said Toby Marsh, chief nursing officer at UC Davis Medical Center.

"We didn't know how many nurses would participate," he said.

In anticipation of the strike and as part of their contingency plan, medical center officials arranged for replacement staff in September, a spokesman said. Nurses from as far away as Miami have been filling in during the strike. Other local nurses at the medical center changed their schedules to fill in for shifts Tuesday, Marsh said.

Negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and the UC broke down over wage increases and job security. AFSCME 3299 is seeking wage increases of 6 percent, an increase that UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said would be twice what other employees have received. In exchange for a multi-year contract, Doan said, the university system offered 3 percent across-the-board wage increases annually for the next four years and proposed a one-time, lump sum payment of $750 once the contract was ratified.

AFSCME 3299 represents respiratory therapists and surgical technicians in its health care unit and custodians and groundskeepers in its service unit. Citing a 2017 report by the California state auditor, the unions say campuses and facilities around the UC system are outsourcing work that could be done by its union-represented employees or by new university hires. And the unions say in many cases, the contractors pay lower wages to workers than university employees make.

The university then uses suppressed market wages as a basis for determining wage increases, said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger.

“We are really fighting to right the ship and make UC a much more equitable place,” Lybarger said. “The concerns we have that the top-level executives at UC have seen 64-percent growth in their incomes over the last 10 years, and actually there is a greater gap between their income and that of front-line workers.”

In a response to the auditor's report, UC President Janet Napolitano said UC and its campuses contract for services when special expertise or experience is needed, when a university needs short-term or temporary staffing and when a campus requires services and equipment not regularly found internally. She stated that such contracts allow each UC campus to maximize efficiency.

Labor market economist Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., said that outsourcing has been widely used nationwide to cut costs.

Lybarger said that UC Davis spends tens of millions of dollars to outsource rather than hire laborers, shuttle bus drivers, patient-care technicians and billing coders. The state auditor’s report showed that UC locations had contracted work for valets, food-service workers, valets, janitors, security personnel, and at UC Davis Health, billing coders and medical scribes.

AFSCME members such as Billie Jo Romero, 48, a medical records clerk on the UCD Health campus, said she works side-by-side with independent contractors doing the same work. The situation, Romero said, has left her questioning whether administrators value her work enough to maintain her position.

“We have a lot of contractor workers that come and go,” Romero said. “There’s huge inequality. They’re bringing in people to do our jobs who aren’t trained for it, aren’t educated for it, and in the same respect, they definitely aren’t getting paid what we get paid. And, slowly, the work is dwindling down to where many of us are definitely afraid of losing our jobs.”

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