Health & Medicine

500 pickets at UCD Medical Center shout, drum, rattle frustration over contracts

Buoyed by the mid-morning arrival of a busload of employees from University of California, Merced, roughly 500 pickets spilled out four astride onto city sidewalks Wednesday from the rotary at UC Davis Medical Center.

It was the second day of a three-day strike against the University of California health systems. Roughly 39,000 workers in AFSCME Local 3299 and UPTE -CWA Local 9119 are on strike Tuesday through Thursday of this week at the UC’s five academic hospitals around the state.

AFSCME 3299, the UC’s largest employee union, is seeking concessions on outsourcing and wage increases that could total as much as 8 percent a year for the 15,000 members of its patient-care technical unit and the 9,000 members of its service unit. The 15,000 members of UPTE-CWA are also seeking wage increases as well as equal treatment on benefits such as paid time off.

UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said Wednesday that AFSCME leaders’ organized theatrics and intentional disruptions for a second day have done nothing to shift the university’s stance on their unreasonable demands.

“An 8 percent pay increase for each of four years is not possible for a taxpayer-supported institution,” she said. “The union wants more money — more than any other group at the university. This is why they are striking, plain and simple. UC hopes AFSCME leaders, given their wasted efforts, will now engage in productive, sensible negotiations.”

At UC Davis Medical Center on Wednesday, officials said 76 percent of employees represented by the striking unions had crossed the picket lines and come into work. Outside, though, a passionate group of pickets shouted their displeasure over stalled union contract negotiations with union slogans such as “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! UC greed has got to go!” as they made a broad circuit of the campus at Stockton Boulevard and Broadway.

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Campus security guards held back traffic as they crossed streets. On one stop, four dozen pickets happily squeezed into a photo with state Sen. Richard Pan, a practicing pediatrician who once served patients at the UCD Medical Center. Occasionally, passing truckers and motorists honked their support. Some employees drummed out a pace, and others rattled maracas in response.

Before setting out, Mohammed Akbar, an operating room assistant at UC Davis Medical Center, told a Bee reporter that he loves the camaraderie of the health care team in the post-op recovery room but that he wouldn’t be at work Tuesday through Thursday of this week. Instead, he said, he is marching with his union brothers and sisters in AFSCME Local 3299 and UPTE-CWA who are bargaining for wage increases and job security.

“We’re a union. We’re stronger together.,” said Akbar, who’s the legal guardian of his late sister’s three children. “We’re just asking to be able to live comfortably in our homes ... and feed our families and keep a roof over our heads. The only way we can do that is if we get a fair contract.”

Akbar said that, while 8 percent raises may sound like a lot, the actual dollar increase in wages is often significantly less than the thousands of dollars that many highly compensated UC employees will receive from the UC’s proposed 3 percent wage increase. AFSCME 3299 members are among the lowest-paid UC employees, labor leaders say.

Akbar and other AFSCME 3299 expressed fears that outsourcing would displace UC union workers and kill a solid path to middle-class wages and retirement benefits. They said they are concerned that job losses will result from UCD Medical Center’s plan to build a $60 million rehabilitation hospital with Kindred Rehabilitation Services in a new Aggie Square on the UCD medical campus.

When that happens, certified occupational therapy assistant Jasmine Tobin told The Bee, she and her coworkers will have to apply with the new company if they want to keep their current jobs. Tobin said she’s not on strike for wages. She’s on strike to keep her job.

UCD Medical Center executive Toby Marsh said all employees in the hospital’s rehabilitation department will have the option of working in other units of the medical center. No layoffs are planned as part of the partnership with Kindred, UCD officials said, and the area where UCD currently offers rehab services must close by 2020 because of seismic restrictions.

“We’re building a brand-new rehabilitation hospital that is needed for the community, needed for our patients,” said Marsh, the chief nursing and patient care services officer. “If the staff chooses not to go there, we want them with us and we are committed to finding them positions.”

Over the past five years, Doan said, the UC has not only increased the number of workers represented by AFSCME 3299 but it has also steadily grown its overall union workforce.

The headcount for AFSCME workers is up 17.1 percent to 24,979 workers, Doan said, and overall the UC has 85,020 union-represented workers, a 9.9 percent expansion from five years ago. UC Davis Health now employs 4,457 AFSCME and UPTE-CWA employees, up 14 percent since 2014.

On average, AFSCME workers have seen their pay increase by 21.3 percent from five years ago, she said, and union workers overall have seen an average wage gain of 23.7 percent in the same period.

AFSCME’s patient-care technical unit — which includes nurse aides, respiratory therapists and radiology technologists — originally called for this week’s walkout. They quickly won support from the AFSCME service unit composed of custodians, groundskeepers and security guards plus three units of UPTE-CWA Local 9119 who include audiologists, computing technologists and and clinical research coordinators in their number. All have been negotiating contracts for more than a year.

AFSCME International President Lee Saunders released a statement supporting the striking workers, saying in part: “While UC executives enjoy perks ... UC workers struggle just to pay their bills and support their families, making sacrifices every day to deliver first-class public services, fearful that their job will be outsourced to outside contractors who are paid poverty wages.”

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