Health & Medicine

'You can feel it when the workers aren’t there.' Nurses strike with hospital workers

Abigael Dela-Garcia, a nurse in the medical surge unit at the UC Medical Center, joins the picket line, carrying her 9-month-old daughter, Anastasia, on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.
Abigael Dela-Garcia, a nurse in the medical surge unit at the UC Medical Center, joins the picket line, carrying her 9-month-old daughter, Anastasia, on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Sacramento Bee

More than 550 nurses and members of the California Nurses Association turned out Wednesday for the second day of the sympathy strike at UC Davis Medical Center.

The nurses, along with other health care workers in University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA union, joined AFSCME 3299 union members on Tuesday and Wednesday in their strike against stalled contract negotiations with the University of California.

After more than a year of negotiations, the patient-care and service workers, represented by AFSCME 3299, rejected the university's last-and-best offer of 3 percent across-the-board wage increases and a prorated, lump-sum payment of $750. AFSCME 3299 negotiators have sought wage increases of 6 percent, a freeze on health care premiums and job security that eliminates contracting out jobs for which its members are trained.

CNA and UPTE are also in contract negotiations with UC.

Abigael Dela-Garcia, a nurse in the medical surge unit at the medical center, joined the picket line, carrying her 9-month-old daughter, Anastasia, who was strapped into a baby carrier.

“I know she doesn’t understand this, but I think it’s important for her to learn to stand up for our rights,” she said.

Dela-Garcia said she worked on Monday, the first day of the three-day strike, and the absence of the AFSCME workers affected her.

"You can feel it when the workers aren’t there," she said.

The kitchen staff hit the picket line, leaving the kitchen closed during her Monday shift, Dela-Garcia said. Many patients received cold food, she said.

“Nurses don’t work in a silo,” Dela-Garcia said. “Nurses don’t work by themselves; we work with each other. So I think by standing up in solidarity we’re showing UC everyone is important.”

Janet Asche, a transplant nurse at the medical center, pushed her 2-year-old twin son and daughter in a tandem stroller, while her 4-year-old son walked next to her as the picket line circled in front of the medical center Wednesday.

Asche traveled with her children from Vacaville to participate in the strike.

Asche,who works part time, said the clerks on her unit had their hours cut and the nurses had to pick up the extra work.

“We should spend more time with our patients, not paperwork,” Asche said. “Things aren’t right. We do take pride in our work, but we can only take so much.”

“We’re a 24/7 facility but we don’t have 24/7 support,” she said.

AFSCME 3299 represents 24,000 workers across the UC system, including medical assistants, respiratory therapists, health care unit workers, custodians and groundskeepers in its service unit.

Nalisha Weaver is an AFSCME member and works as an authorization coordinator at the UC Davis Cancer Center, working with patients' insurance companies to get expensive tests and procedures cleared.

She said she joined the strike Monday to protect her pension benefits.

The UC wants to offer new hires the ability to opt out of the defined benefits plan for a 401k. Weaver fears that option would leave the pension vulnerable. Current employees pay 9 percent of their monthly income into the pension fund, according to Joe Trujillo, a member of the AFSCME bargaining team.

Carolyn Evans joined the picket line over the pension as well. Evans,. who's worked in centralized scheduling at the medical center, said she plans to retire this year.

"I'm striking for retirees because I'm retiring this year," she said. "We want to keep our benefits and retirement, and we don't want it to go super high where we can't afford it."

Evans said her working conditions are "OK" but her office keeps taking on more work without adequate raises.

Her office used to schedule patient appointments for four specialty departments, and now it schedules appointments for more than 10.

"It's not point and click," said Sharnice Brown, a co-worker of Evans' who has been working at the medical center for 11 years. "You have to memorize a lot, and you have to keep in mind doctors preferences and the patient's need."

Weaver, Brown and Evans said they are ready to strike again if negotiations didn't improve.

"The people on top are not taking care of patients," Weaver said. "We do. And we do it understaffed and underpaid."

Three union representatives talk about the reasons they have come together for a three-day labor strike at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM

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