Health & Medicine

Health care workers claim victories in 3-day strike; UC leaders say no deal

Roughly 39,000 unionized employees wrapped up a three-day strike Thursday at five University of California teaching hospitals, including UC Davis Medical Center, a job action that UC leaders said moved them no closer to a contract agreement.

“We’ve seen this show before. AFSCME (Local 3299) leaders inflate strike participation numbers, and without any basis, claim victory despite the fact that they are no closer to a deal that will help their members,” said UC spokesperson Claire Doan. “We hope to meet AFSCME at the bargaining table, the only place where real progress can be made.”

Union leaders, however, said that they received reports from colleagues working on the UCD hospital floor, saying that the hospital had to postpone services for patients in the gastrointestinal clinic, physical therapy and elective surgery.

A UCD spokesman said gastrointestinal procedures were rescheduled in satellite clinics, but other services were not disrupted.

If union members showed enough solidarity to affect operations, that should send a message to UC administrators and regents that they are united in their opposition to their employer’s contract terms, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University.

“The closer you get to wall-to-wall unionism and solidarity, the greater the pressure is on the university,” Bronfenbrenner said. The UC needs “to serve patients and the needs of a teaching hospital. As a teaching hospital, a strike causes uncertainty for the future of the students who are trying to fulfill the requirements of their residencies. They have to get a certain number of hours. That puts pressure on them.”

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UC Davis officials said 75 percent of employees from the two unions who were scheduled to work Thursday crossed the picket line. As many as 76 percent did so Wednesday, UCD said, and 69 percent on Tuesday.

The Bee counted roughly 500 employees picketing UCD Medical Center at midmorning Tuesday and Wednesday. About 300 were there at midmorning Thursday. State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, rallied with them Wednesday, and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, spoke Thursday.

AFSCME Local 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 9119 are seeking wage increases of 6 percent as well as equal treatment on benefits such as paid time off.

In an interview during a break from picketing, senior dietitian Greg Wine said he’s upset that UC leaders are chiding AFSCME 3299 leaders for seeking wage increases of 8 percent. First off, he said, that’s disingenuous, and secondly, UC leaders originally offered no wage increases at all to some of its bargaining units.

Both sides clearly came to the table with their dream demand, said Wine, who’s the vice president of UPTE’s Davis unit, but the goal is to meet somewhere in the middle.

AFSCME 3299 actually is seeking annual raises of 6 percent, Wine said, plus 2 percent step increases for employees who move up in grade. Those step increases are standard in most contract agreements, Wine said.

In fact, the UC agreed to give step increases to registered nurses in the California Nurses Association as part of their contract agreement, Wine said, so, while nurses may be getting annual raises of 3 percent a year over four years, the additional step increases bring their total wage increases to 23 percent over the life of their four-year contract.

Yet UC is offering members of UPTE-CWA and AFSCME 3299 less, Wine said, and that’s the basic definition of inequality.

Wine and leaders of AFSCME 3299 said union members are more concerned about outsourcing of UC work to outside vendors, pointing to the UCD Medical Center’s plan to build a $60 million rehabilitation hospital in Sacramento with Kindred Rehabilitation Services. Kindred will employ the workers at the facility, but UCD leaders have said that no workers will be laid off as part of the plan.

Union leaders and workers have expressed skepticism over this statement.

Employee trust is difficult to attain and maintain in the current environment, Bronfenbrenner said, because so many employers are claiming to put workers’ interest first but then reneging on promises.

“The university is going to have to prove itself over and over again because all the employers around them are not behaving,” Bronfenbrenner said. “Employers are breaking trust all around, and so it’s hard. An employer can say, ‘I’m different,’ but good jobs are turning into bad jobs all around.”

The UC points to its record over the last five years: 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.

So, what’s next for AFSCME Local 3299 contract negotiations? An official impasse was declared in the UC negotiations with AFSCME 3299, and the UC talks with UPTE-CWA are going into mediation in November.

AFSCME spokesman John de los Angeles said negotiators will meet to discuss how to proceed. UC officials say they’re waiting for AFSCME’s call.

Bronfenbrenner said she expect that union leaders will make sure that politicians, regents and others know their members are united in their demands to limit the outsourcing of service contracts and improve wages. Stalled negotiations and even impasses are common in labor negotiations, she said, and they usually come in the process of reaching a final deal.

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