Health & Medicine

What this week’s strike at UC Davis hospital means for patients, traffic in Sacramento

Deadlocked in labor contract negotiations with the University of California, thousands of low-wage workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299 will be setting up picket lines Tuesday through Thursday outside Sacramento’s UC Davis Medical Center and at four other academic hospitals around the state.

Here’s what UC Davis patients and motorists around its facilities should know:

Will there be enough staff to help me at the UCD medical center?

Both UC Davis management and union officials said patients can be assured that they will receive the same quality of care that they have come to expect at UC hospitals.

Under state law, university officials said, strikes that pose a substantial and imminent threat to vital public services such as patient care are illegal. AFSCME 3299 spokesman John de los Angeles said that key representatives from the university, AFSCME, the Public Employment Relations Board, and the Superior Court of California all assessed patient need and determined the number of employees who should continue to work during a strike.

“AFSCME not only intends to honor that agreement but has additionally assembled a patient protection task force that’s ready to respond if the university’s contingency plans were to fail,” he said. “While workers may be on strike, the public’s health and safety continues to be a top priority.”

Will streets be blocked?

AFSCME 3299 organized a similar three-day statewide strike in May. At UC Davis Medical Center, Bee reporters observed that pickets crossing Stockton and X streets slowed traffic but did not block access to the hospital.

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For motorists, the strike could slow down morning, lunchtime and evening commutes along Stockton Boulevard between Second Avenue to the south and V Street to the north. Street parking also could be more difficult to find in the area.

Patients should make sure they have extra time to get to appointments at the medical center and at Shriners Hospitals for Children. From Stockton Boulevard, the UCD campus can be accessed not only by X Street but also by Y Street and Second Avenue. From Broadway, motorists can get to the campus from 49th or 50th streets. The main medical center entrances are off X St. The Shriners property can be accessed from either X or Y street.

Have questions about hospital access? The UC Davis operator is available 24 hours a day at 916-734-2011.

If pickets aren’t trying to shut down the hospital, what’s the point of the strike?

About 24,000 workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299, the UC’s largest employee union, say they are willing to sacrifice wages in order to show the degree of their dissatisfaction with the UC’s offers for wage increases, benefits and job security.

The local UPTE-CWA union, which represents 15,000 health care, research and technical workers at the UC, are also in deadlocked negotiations with the UC and will be hitting the picket lines in sympathy with AFSCME 3299.

“Over 97 percent of our members voted for the strike and will be out there in the thousands, calling attention to the growing inequality between those at the top of the university system and those at the bottom,” said Liz Perlman, executive director of AFSCME Local 3299. “Our members are people of color, women and immigrants who are facing growing disparities in how they are treated and also facing an increasing threat to their jobs being outsourced.”

Pickets will share information with patients and passersby, but the goal of any strike is also to get the attention of civic leaders and public officials and seek their support for rank-and-file employees.

Leaders of UC Davis Medical Center and the four other UC hospitals involved – UCLA, UC San Francisco, UC Irvine and UC San Diego medical centers – will be working to tell their side of the story. In informational sheets shared with The Bee, for instance, UCD noted that roughly 72 percent of workers scheduled to work during AFSCME’s May strike showed up for their shifts at its Sacramento medical campus. They say AFSCME negotiators have led rank-and-file workers to reject “very fair offers” that included 3 percent annual wage increases.

Union leaders say the wage increases pale in comparison to the raises that management receives, but their greater concern is that UC outsourcing contracts are lowering the prevailing market wages and so eroding the wage increases that workers can expect.

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