Health & Medicine

39,000 health workers announce when they will picket UC medical centers statewide

The largest employee union at the University of California, AFSCME Local 3299, announced Friday that its patient-care technical workers will go on a three-day strike Oct. 23-25 at Sacramento’s UC Davis Medical Center and the four other UC health systems across the state.

The job action will involve as many as 39,000 workers statewide, composed of the 15,000 members of AFSCME 3299’s patient-care unit, 9,000 from AFSCME’s service unit and 15,000 research, technical and health-care professionals represented by UPTE-CWA. AFSCME’s service unit and UPTE-CWA voted to strike in sympathy with the patient care workers.

Both AFSCME and UPTE-CWA have been negotiating with the UC for more than a year, and their leaders say negotiations have stalled over issues such as outsourcing, pay, retirement benefits and health-care premiums.

“The University of California has continuously ignored workers’ concerns over the outsourcing of good middle-class jobs and the inequality and insecurity that it creates,” said Monica De Leon, vice president of AFSCME 3299’s patient-care technical unit.

In a prepared statement issued after AFSCME announced the strike vote, UC leaders said: “Union leaders refuse to allow their own members to vote on UC’s competitive contract offer, instead spending months threatening and now conducting a strike vote. Rather than engage in constructive talks at the negotiating table, AFSCME leaders are using the threat of a strike as a scare tactic.”

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AFSCME 3299 has sought annual 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.

Outsourcing has been a key sticking point for AFSCME’s negotiators, who have pointed to a state auditor’s report showing that a number of contract workers receive lower wages and fewer benefits than UC workers in similar positions. Union leaders say outsourcing also suppresses the prevailing market wages in the salary surveys done to determine wage increases.

“The AFSCME represented segment of UC’s workforce is the most diverse group of workers at the University — resembling the demographic makeup of California more than any other group at UC,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “When UC outsources these jobs, they’re eliminating what were once career ladders into the middle-class for women and people of color — and that is in major conflict with the University’s mission of serving as an engine of economic mobility for all Californians.”

In prior statements, the UC has said that its contract with AFSCME permits it to subcontract existing service work, except if the sole reason for doing so is to save money on employee wages and benefits.

AFSCME employees are compensated at or above market wages, sometimes as much as 17 percent higher than prevailing wages for workers in the same occupations, UC leaders said after AFSCME 3299 service workers announced a strike in May. AFSCME was joined in that job action by UPTE-CWA members and roughly 29,000 UC workers statewide from the California Nurses Association.

The nurses have since negotiated a new contract with the UC and cannot join in upcoming job actions.

UPTE-CWA represents a variety of UC employees, including audiologists, dietitians, research associates and electronics technicians. Like AFSCME 3299, all three UPTE-CWA units have been negotiating with the UC for more than a year. Roughly 97 percent of UPTE-CWA members voted to authorize the sympathy strike.

Earlier this month, the UC began paying a 2 percent wage increase to workers in the AFSCME 3299 patient-care technical bargaining unit. It also imposed terms for health care and retirement benefits. The university made the same move with AFSCME 3299’s service workers ahead of the May strike.

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